The definition of faith

Sometimes it’s hard to write about love.

It’s hard to pay attention to what’s happening in the world, to be sickened by acts of violence and cruelty perpetrated in the name of religion or freedom or order, to care deeply about the health of our planet, to love people who are out of work or underemployed, to watch politician after politician lose his (or her) soul in their never-ending bid for office… and then come here and write about love. I sometimes feel beaten, small. Someone reads me and says, “I wish it were that easy,” and I feel foolish, the girl who doesn’t know it’s a costume party and comes dressed only as herself. Or worse, not dressed at all – naked and glaringly imperfect.

To say that love is the answer when the question involves the bottom line, big oil, golden parachutes, a disappearing middle class and the increasingly desperate poor… it’s silly, right? It’s like I’m having a different conversation from the rest of the world.


And yet…


I can’t shake my belief that love isn’t just what matters most, it may be the only thing that matters at all. In her amazing CNN post, hospice chaplain and author Kerry Egan talks about the conversations she has with people who are dying. They don’t talk about God or religion or politics or work.

They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave.  Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

Isn’t it telling that at the end of our lives, when we are stripped of so much, when there is nothing to distract us because there is nothing left but whatever lies at our very core,  what we relive, what we celebrate and mourn, are not our accomplishments or our failed dreams, but the ways in which we did and did not love?


My friend, Michael Lockhart recently wrote a post about pipelines, violins, politicians and love. In it, he talks about his tendency to get angry at the injustices in the world, a tendency I can verify he has. (More than once, he’s had to clarify that he isn’t pissed off at me, just pissed off.) I love Michael for his passion, his intelligence and even his anger. But I love him most because, now and then, he surprises me by writing something like this.

Anger is temporary and ultimately self-defeating. Love has to be the foundation: love for the next generation; love for our human potential; love of our selves and the legacy we’re leaving; love of our fellow humans and the rest of the motley crew of flora and fauna and such that we happen to share this ball of dirt with. Love keeps the tanks fullish, yeah?



I think about Michael sometimes when I’m writing my posts. I think about how he and others like him speak out, protest, fight for the people who are least able to fight for themselves. I think about them and I hesitate, hands on my keyboard, frozen. I wonder if it matters, in the face of such global cruelty and disregard, that there are some of us trying to love through our fear, trying to live like we believe that we hold each other’s hearts in our hands. I stare at the screen, at my blinking cursor and I experience nothing less than a crisis of faith, a wrenching uncertainty about why I’m here, why I do what I do.

In these moments, it is excruciatingly hard to write about love.

And even more excruciating not to.


  1. Jill Salahub on February 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I read this quote this morning: “To love yourself completely is an act of courage,” and I think you could extend it to say “To love completely is an act of courage.” There are those of us whose superpower is love, gentleness, quiet. We have to be brave to stand outside and apart from the struggle that goes on, because being outside and apart is scary and risky and sometimes lonely. I have always been a peacemaker, unable to take sides because I can usually see both sides. I’d rather make everyone cookies–that’s just who I am. And to talk about love, to feel it, to share it, to remind us, that’s who you are. Don’t stop, please.

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Thank you, Jill.

      If my superpower is love, I’m afraid it’s an in-the-thick-of-it kind of thing… I’ve rarely been lauded as a peacemaker. But you’re right that both places – in the trenches and above the fray – take courage; neither place is easy… or completely safe.


  2. Deborah Brooks Langford on February 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    awesome post. Love is the most important thing. I agree with you. this is beautiful.. maybe you can follow me?
    I am on Facebook too. DEBORAH BROOKS LANGFORD

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Thank you Deborah. I clicked your name but it didn’t take me anywhere. Go to my contact page and you can find me on Facebook.

  3. Rita on February 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Please. Never stop.

    I hear you. I get all that. And the end of the day, what’s the thing that gets me out of bed? An opportunity to leave someone w/the experience of having been loved. If even just for a second. That’s why. More of that. Please. You are a love warrior remember? This is what you’re built for. And sometimes, you get a little dent in your armour and someone just needs to kiss it better. Please let me be one of those people who has an opportunity to rub some ointment on it and cover it in a heart shaped bandaid. Judy, you are amazing. Thank you for loving. Thru all of that. xo

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Thank YOU. For a number of reasons, I felt tired and a little bit lost as I sat down to write this post. Your response (and all the others) are my elixir today. We’re all warriors. xo

  4. Pam on February 6, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I just watched Mrs. Miniver the other night. I suggest it as a reminder of how very vital love and kindness are in the worst of times.

    I don’t think it’s ever beside the point to remind ourselves about love. xo

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      I’ve never seen Mrs. Miniver; I’ll put it on the TBW list. And thank you. xo

  5. Andrea on February 6, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    “It’s like I’m having a different conversation from the rest of the world.”

    I believe that the conversation you’re having is one that most people want to have, but they are too afraid to stand up and hear their voice in this unfamiliar territory. And then I see you having it, and reminds me stand up, too.

    We have to give up a piece of our ego to have this conversation. It’s uncomfortable and scary, and it goes against the grain of how we’ve been trained. We’ve been trained to assess what’s wrong, worry about imperfection and stack up reasons *against* instead of *for*. We compare and compete instead of accept and admire when we find differences between us. We build up hardened shells of bravado and fake, insincere smiles to hide the human things going on inside our hearts.

    We try to appear “sanitized” in the most amusing ways.

    Last week I was thinking about how we frame ourselves to be better than we are. More polished. More together. Especially in the little world of personal development, where I tend to hang out a lot. In this world, people don’t readily admit when they are struggling. Somehow we’ve conflated the domain of positive thinking with absence of difficulty, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    Thank you for talking about it, for, um, being human. And for creating a site where more of us can share our humanness in all its tangled and messy glory.

    And for having this conversation. Thank you most of all for that.

    Much, much love,

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      “We’ve been trained to assess what’s wrong, worry about imperfection and stack up reasons *against* instead of *for*. We compare and compete instead of accept and admire when we find differences between us.”

      That’s true, I think. I do think our culture encourages us to compare ourselves to others and, whether we come away feeling superior or lacking, we certainly have cemented in ourselves a sense of separateness. Interesting point that I hadn’t thought of before. Thank you for making it, Andrea.

      And thank you for your encouragement. Sometimes, I need that more than food.

  6. Casoly on February 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I think it’s very hard to write about love, especially when you do it with depth, sincerity and passion like you do J. Writing (or talking) superficially about it is easy but also unhelpful IMO. I realize you may think I use the word badass lightly, but in fact I can think of only 4 maybe 5 ppl in my 41years for whom that term is ever used. It’s my shorthand I guess, stolen or borrowed from T, that for me encompasses strength, determination, wisdom, caring and ass-kicking (depending on the context), one who also understands their own flaws and limitations but ultimately has a strong, deep understanding of what humans mean to each other, how wr can heal or wound each other. One who does not take the plight or folly of humanity lightly. So as you can see, much easier to just say “badass.” 😉 life is hard, admitting defeat is frequently easy, getting up, brushing off the dirt or mending the wounds and pushing forward, wiser from setbacks or naysayers – that is the toughest. Someone I want in my corner. A badass. You Judy are a badass. Thank you for all that you do. xo

    • Tammy on February 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      I love when you mention me in your comment…especially such an eloquent one. xo

      What Caroline said. xo

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      Well if I was confused, I won’t be now. I’ll know exactly what kind of compliment you’re giving me when you call me badass. It’s what I mean when I say it too, when I talk about the kind of fearlessness I want to embody. It’s hard to be badass AND self-aware… no one knows our weaknesses and fuck ups better than we do.

      Thank you for being (so eloquently) in my corner. (And t, too.) xox

  7. Tricia on February 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I live in meth capital of the world, where natural love is for only those whose brains aren’t eaten into mush. Day of day I hear of more people killing their own kids, all for their love of meth. I get so scared about the people around me turning into heartless zombies. They aren’t human anymore. They are without natural love. A world without love is a self-centered world, one I don’t want to be a part.

    So keep talking love, human love. It never gets old for those who are scared it’s becoming scarce.

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Tricia, I want to scoop down, superhero style, and fly you to my house, where we have mostly cowboys and vineyards… an odd combination but it somehow works. In those terrible moments of doubt (which I know we all have), I’ll think of you and write on. xox

  8. Michael on February 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Don’t ever stop, ‘kay, you amazing ball of inspiration, you.

    Noticing, pointing out, acting on/against those things that are wrong is only, at best, step A. Steps B through Z, however, are all about the love. When the inevitable zombie apocalypse occurs (and it will – you know it will), it will be love that rebuilds everything. S

    o see? I’m, at best, doing the easy part… You do the heavy lifting.

    Also, you say the sweetest things. Can you be my Facebook friend too? Oh yeah, we’re already there… 😉

    • Michael on February 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      “So see”. That should be a “So’…

      (Barista! More coffee, por favor!)

      • j on February 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm

        I can’t bring myself to edit your original comment, what with the cute “barista” remark.

        Thank you for your A&B kickassery, my friend. You inspire me all the time to join in the fight. And to love. You really have all those letters covered.

        • Michael on February 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm

          See? Now you gone and made me all misty and stuff… Let’s just share the alphabet. There’s enough to go around. For 26 of us anyway. Dibs!

  9. Miguel on February 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I loved that you wrote this. I once pointed someone to a post of yours and warned them not to read it superficially, making quick judgements about what might sound like little gentle love sound bites, but to really absorb what you’re trying to communicate. I know you to be a thinker of great depth in many areas and that your quest for finding the many different meanings to be had from love is not an accepting of a public consciousness about loving but your own critical study of it. I also liked that Michael, and his wonderful worldview figured prominently. XO

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Thank you, Miguel. I know exactly how you felt, directing your friend; it’s the little inner battle I wage here all the time. The irony is, I think, that if I dealt with the subject more snarkily, with sarcasm and sharp claws, no one would think me superficial, or feel that I was dealing in sound bites. And yet, that’s exactly what I would be doing.

      And Michael? He figures prominently wherever he goes. He can’t help it.

  10. Tammy on February 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    “Isn’t it telling that at the end of our lives, when we are stripped of so much, when there is nothing to distract us because there is nothing left but whatever lies at our very core, what we relive, what we celebrate and mourn, are not our accomplishments or our failed dreams, but the ways in which we did and did not love.”

    Indeed it is. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could realize that while we live, when we can do something about it. Though that is what this (A Human Thing) is all about.

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Yes, it is. And how can that possibly be anything less than absolutely critical, right? xo

  11. Dillon on February 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I think the crises of faith are exactly why this whole movement matters most. If even you, a crusader of love – perhaps one of the most active and tireless love warriors in the entire world over the course of this past year – if even you sometimes need to be reminded to love through the fear, then the rest of us sure as hell need it too. It’s not easy to love like a badass. But it’s easier knowing that there are other badasses out there with you.

    • j on February 6, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      I want this comment tattooed on my arm. (See what I did there?)

  12. LunaJune on February 6, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    walking the path
    through the layers of comments
    on love and badassery :~)
    I have fallen so deep into these wonderful waves of Love

    “and in the end…the love you take is equal to the love
    you make …” the Beatles

    there are so many ways to stand up….and show the world that you care …..following things that move your heart…. totally priceless….sharing these ways….opening our hearts to each other WILL change the world.
    World Peace begins in each of our hearts…and ripples out to everything…it’s hard to see the little ripples when sooooo many tsunamis are blowing around, never fear for every person who opens their heart a little bit more to the love that is all around add to the strength and beauty of these little waves and they will grow in magnitude .

    adding my frequency to it daily in my own unique way

    so glad for all the other warriors out there.. who use their heart and fight the good fight.

    in the end… we will all remember this love you share
    that you ask us to be aware of
    Judy you rock and so do each of us
    so don’t stop… let that flag fly high

    Love is the Answer

    • j on February 8, 2012 at 8:38 am

      That is my favorite Beatles line. Thank you for the encouragement, June. xo

  13. Julia on February 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Where to begin?

    These acts of violence/cruelty that you mention in your first paragraph are precisely why this work you’re doing is so critical, J. Being a slave to fear, running (in fear) from love, is precisely why those acts of violence occur in the first place.

    And now I think my heart might beat out of my chest. Your willingness to keep coming back here naked and vulnerable, your willingness to feel small and afraid and keep stepping forward anyway, keep loving and caring so deeply anyway, is the bravest thing I can imagine. And the most loving.

    When you start to feel small and alone, think of all the rest of us here holding your heart in ours, all of us here cheering you on. Your willingness to keep showing up in the thick of it all brings us all together, J, helps each of us to find our brave, our bad-ass-ness, helps us to remember to keep stepping forward despite so much. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing to witness and to be a part of.

    “Isn’t it telling that at the end of our lives, when we are stripped of so much, when there is nothing to distract us because there is nothing left but whatever lies at our very core, what we relive, what we celebrate and mourn, are not our accomplishments or our failed dreams, but the ways in which we did and did not love?”

    Yes, it is so absolutely telling. I see so clearly that when we, right now in the midst of our lives, shed the fear-stuff that stands in our way (doubt/worry/need for approval, etc..) what is left is a heart full of love, a love that we can freely give (because all the shit is out of the way). And that love makes all the difference and truly what matters.

    “I can’t shake my belief that love isn’t just what matters most, it may be the only thing that matters at all.

    Please, please don’t shake your belief. I can’t tell you how many times lately (in moments of great clarity) I know this to be true.

    There aren’t enough words to say how much what your’re/we’re doing matters.

    Thank you for your tireless courage, J, for your big, open love-filled heart. We are all fuller because of it/you.

    • j on February 8, 2012 at 8:49 am

      Thank you, Julia.

      I think at the intersection of activism and love there is the possibility of great transformation. And I guess here, on AHT, we practice love AS activism, which feels to me like a start. My mind reals with the possibility of all we could do, the lives we could make better, the communities we could strengthen, if we truly believed that we made a difference.

      To your point (and June’s, and others who have commented), it begins with each of us stepping into our own capacity to love, and then doing much, much more than talking the talk. Corny or not, love IS a verb, and everything we do tips the scales one way or the other.

      More on all this in future posts. Thank you so much for being here with me! xo

  14. Giulietta Nardone on February 7, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Hi J,

    It can be hard to fathom the cruelty in the world. I sometimes think, “That could be my life, but for the luck of the parental draw.” And that’s precisely why we ought to do something about the sex slavery, the stonings, the acid thrown in the women’s faces, etc.

    It could be us.

    I feel like we’ve got a moral obligation to right the wrongs in the world, to alleviate the suffering of others. Creating a world-wide love craze is part of the answer. If we were raised to love each other, it would make it that much harder to do terrible things to each other.

    We may feel removed from those terrible acts in our comfy Western Hemisphere homes, but the world changes on a dime. What’s there could be here.

    Can we start a love wave?


    • j on February 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Yikes, I somehow missed replying to you!

      I wonder if part of the problem isn’t that we aren’t raised to love each other, but that we aren’t raised to love everyone. We love people who think like us, or practice our religion, or look like us… we think in terms of us and them, rather than just “us.”

      You’re right that what happens elsewhere can happen here, and, let’s face it… apathy, insensitivity, cruelty… that happens everywhere, here too.

      Yes, yes, YES. Let’s start a love wave. A love tsunami.

  15. Nancy on February 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    J, I must echo the comments above…please don’t stop. Your post reminds me of Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, which I read aloud to my parents a few months before my father died. A wrenching experience, but one that helped all three of us.

    “Mitch, you asked about caring for people I don’t even know. but I can tell you the thing I’m learning most with this disease.”

    “What’s that?”

    “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

    His voice dropped to a whisper. “Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.”

    I don’t believe we can address serious issues like big oil, golden parachutes, the disappearing middle class, wars, whatever, unless we can approach those issues with love. To really love, as you so eloquently point out to is, is messy business. So is solving the world’s problems. We owe it to ourselves to let love out, and to let it in…otherwise we can’t care enough to use our love for good.

    I once was part of a group who got together just to send positive energy to those in the world who needed help, who needed change. Did we solve any problems? I’m sure a lot of rational people will say we didn’t. It was 20 years ago, and look at the escalation of world problems in the past 20 years. Did it hurt anything, our two hours a week of sitting and concentrating only on love and sending it out to the world? Nope. Did it help us use love to support our choices and influence on concrete things in our world? You betcha.

    I agree that at the end, what we regret most is how we lived and loved…or didn’t. You will not regret your love at the end, J. You will not regret that you spent time helping yourself and the rest of us really think about love. Not valentine’s day love…not superficial love….not, as one of my godson’s said as a small child, not “pizza love.”

    Now, can Michael join us for cheesecake? Grin. I’m off to read his post.



    • j on February 8, 2012 at 9:09 am

      I read TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, and was broken open too. I (coincidentally) spend Tuesdays with my mom, and feel lucky for the opportunity that so many others don’t have.

      I agree with you that love – compassion, empathy, a real sense of our connectedness – lies at the heart of any chance we have to change the way the world works. And it’s only when I see how money and greed and a weird, cold sort of protectionism holds sway over policy and our political process, that I falter. Faith is like that, I know, an against-the-odds sort of thing.

      I’m grateful to all of you who let me lean on you. I desperately want to figure out how to channel all this love and hope into something tangible and love-warrior-boots-on-the-ground transformative…

      *strikes a determined and thoughtful pose* 😉

  16. Nancy on February 7, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    p.s. “Pizza Love” — “how can you love pizza and use the same word for how you love me?” Credit to Dylan who asked me this when he was five. I do think, however, that “Cheesecake love” might be really important….grin.

    • j on February 8, 2012 at 9:10 am

      Ha! I LOVE this! As Rachel Maddow would say, this is the best new thing in the world. xoxo

  17. Annika on February 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    I had a frightening experience this week and in the middle of the violent threats and pushing+shoving happening in front of me, I thought of this post. And of the picture you chose to accompany it. Even in the most terrifying moments, when we feel attacked, disrespected, unloved, we should choose love.

    • j on February 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm

      This is just about the best response you could have written to me. Thank you, Annika. xo

  18. […] you read Judy Clement Wall’s blogs? You should. Last week at A Human Thing, she talked about love and faith, and this is what stands out to me: “I wonder if it matters, in the face of such global cruelty […]

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