Category Archives: Growth in Love

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Where on the Journey into Love are You?

The tagline for this website says of the journey toward nonviolence that “in the end, it’s about increasing our capacity to love.”

I believe that wholeheartedly.

That is why we’re here.

To grow in love.

Together.

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Coming to a place where we listen compassionately, regard the full dignity of every human person, and respond to violence with curiosity instead of judgment or anger (among other things) means having within us an ever-expansive and welcoming spirit of love.

We cannot live this way if we have not love.

But how does that loving spirit within us grow?

How is our capacity for love enlarged?

Great questions.

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I have found that an ability to love emerges from a security in our own belovedness.

“We love, because he first loved us.” — 1 John 4:19

I used to read that passage in the Bible and think that love was my obligation. Since God had loved me — he had, after all, saved my life by giving up his Son’s own life! — so I needed to love others.

But knowing this truth of God’s love did not produce a spirit of love in me.

I didn’t know love simply because I knew — in my mind — God’s love. Mental assent did not produce transformation.

Instead, I found I only knew love once I knew love:

. . . once I had experienced it in a deep, profound, and personal way.

. . . once it had pierced the deepest fibers of my being.

. . . once it had touched the depths of my identity.

Once that happened, I found my desire to love others simply overflowed. My heart just grew, almost of its own accord.

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How does that happen, then?

How do we experience love in a deep and profound way?

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I’ve found it requires a journey.

That’s why this space is named for the journey.

We are walking a path that takes time and intention, and it is leading us toward a love that encompasses all things.

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As we set out on this path together, then, take a few moments to reflect on your current state of learning love.

Which of these statements best describes your place in the journey right now?

  1. I don’t know what love is. This is where my own journey began. I came to a point of reckoning, a moment of revelation where I realized that I didn’t know what love or grace or even God meant to me. This began a process of intentional exploration where I learned that my heart had built up walls — many walls — that made it quite impervious to love. This first part of the journey, then, was about unlearning the many false forms of love I’d adopted inside my soul. It was about unlearning unlove.
  2. I’m learning how to be loved. Once we unlearn unlove, we find a space inside of us that is ready to learn what real love is. All kinds of questions crop up here. What does real love look like? How does it apply to me? How is it different than the forms of unlove I carried before? What is it like for me to touch, taste, and feel it? This can be a wobbly, uncertain time in the journey as entire realities begin to shift and sway in the laying of an entirely new foundation. But it is also a remarkable time of testing boundaries and learning that love — real love — is truly limitless.
  3. I’m basking in my belovedness. Eventually, the fact of our belovedness becomes more natural, more comfortable, more real. More a part of our everyday make-up. It becomes something we believe with increasing certainty. We find that chains of guilt, shame, and obligation have loosed their hold upon us, and we begin to breathe in freedom. This is a delicious, joyful, contented part of the journey as we rest in our worth and utter acceptance to God.
  4. I want others to know their belovedness, too. As I shared above, love begets love. It is creative. It’s generative. Once we taste love, we want others to taste love, too. In this part of the journey, our eyes begin to train themselves outward. Compassion becomes a currency of life. As we see others who are broken, downtrodden, and striving — just as we once were doing the same — we increasingly long for them to experience a journey of freedom and love in their own lives, too.
  5. I am willing to die for love. This last stage, I must confess, took me completely by surprise. I didn’t know it was there, even though the example and words of Jesus Christ should have made it plain as day. But there it was, waiting for me in my own journey over the course of this past year. In this stage, I’m learning that we move from basking in our own belovedness and wanting others to experience their belovedness, too, to finding that our own lives mean less to us than the lives of others. This is not about a degradation of self, but about a giving of self — all for love. Here, love begins to foment within us with so much vigor that we become willing to bleed, spill, and even die if necessary because of it, trusting our own lives into the loving arms of God if it means becoming vessels of love and peace for the salvation of others. This part of the journey into love is quite mysterious, I’m finding, but it does await us on the path to love as we keep leaning into the ongoing journey.

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A few items of note as it relates to our journeying together here . . .

  • Because each person’s story and pace on the journey is unique, we will spend time exploring all five of these stages in greater depth on an ongoing basis. It is my hope to provide food for persons in each stage of the journey here.
  • As such, pilgrims in all stages are welcome here, and you are welcome to walk at your own pace!
  • I find it also worth noting that we can sometimes journey back and forth between stages, as we sometimes discover new walls inside our hearts exist that make us impervious to love in other ways we hadn’t yet discovered, and we need to unlearn unlove in those places, too.

So now my question for you is:

Where on the journey into love do you find yourself right now?

Our Central Question: How Do We Grow in Love?

I shared early on that my preoccupation with nonviolence began when I discovered the idea that love is not only more powerful than violence but also the only force in the universe strong enough to overcome it.

At first my interest was purely fueled by curiosity.

Was this really true?

How come?

Prove it.

But then, as I studied an increasing number of social concerns through this lens of love, I became enamored by that central undercurrent:

LOVE.

How does it grow?

What is its source?

How do we increase our own capacity to carry it deep in our hearts?

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I walked through the pages of Gandhi’s life and watched him live with circumspect dignity and care for all he met. How did he develop the strength to live that way?

I read about the bombings on Martin Luther King’s home and his unwillingness to fight back or even demonize those who did it. How did he find the inner reserve of strength to respond that way?

I read dozens of Thomas Merton’s private letters, so many littered with the conviction that wars and bombs are merely outcomes of our fears. How did he develop that conviction?

I went back to the teachings of Jesus again and again. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Turn the other cheek. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. How do we become people who willingly love this way?

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Something else happened along the way.

My heart became tattered and torn into tiny pieces, over and over and over.

Violence in the Congo.

Violence in Iran.

Torture in Guantanamo Bay.

The true tale of Dead Man Walking.

Child soldiers in Uganda, felled deftly by the sound of falling whistles.

And while many, many tears fell for the victims inside these stories, something altogether foreign began happening in me.

I became increasingly wrecked for their enemies.

With every news report I read of the green revolution happening in Iran, I could see the eyes of the Supreme Ayatollah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad staring at me.

When the torture memos were released from Guantanamo Bay, I couldn’t stop seeing the eyes of those applying the torture.

When I watched Dead Man Walking, I cried and cried and cried as Sean Penn’s eyes stared back at me from the screen, his arms stretched outward in the shape of a cross as he received that deathly dosage in his very last scene.

Their eyes haunted me.

Everywhere I went, I could see them.

I balled up in bed many times, and I wept.

For them.

These enemies.

What was happening to me?

How in the world did I end up here?

How did I come to care for those it is so easy for us to despise?

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I don’t fully know the answers to these questions, though I’ve been developing some ideas. But one thing I’ve determined is certainly true: the road to nonviolence is about the journey toward increasing and overwhelming love.

That is the work we will be about here. We will explore and walk together the road toward increasing love.