Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tattoos on the Heart

Gregory Boyle was interviewed a few months ago, on an episode of On Being. Here is Krista Tippett's introduction from that show:  "A Jesuit priest famous for his gang intervention programs in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg Boyle makes winsome connections between service and delight, and compassion and awe. He heads Homeboy Industries, which employs former gang members in a constellation of businesses. This is not work of helping, he says, but of finding kinship. The point of Christian service, as he lives it, is about 'our common calling to delight in one another.'

(By the way - net proceeds from this book are donated to Homeboy Industries.)

Intrigued by the interview, I read Boyle's memoir, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. He shares stories and experiences, and again and again shares his belief in God's compassion, encouraging us to develop that same compassion. He writes in a comfortable, sitting-and-chatting style, encouraging the reader to consider Jesus' approach:
Jesus says if you love those who love you, big wow (which I believe is the original Greek). He doesn't suggest that we cease to love those who love us when he nudges us to love our enemies. Nor does Jesus think the harder thing is the better thing. He knows it's just the harder thing. But to love the enemy and to find some spaciousness for the victimizer, as well as the victim, resembles more the expansive compassion of God. That's why you do it.

To be in the world who God is.

Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.
He encourages us to not merely serve others, but to develop a oneness with them. This reminds me of a blog post that talked about the divisiveness that occurs when we separate ourselves into the 'in-group' and the 'out-group.'
Jesus and Petra [a woman who welcomed 'wetbacks' in their community] are on the same page here. They chose a oneness in kinship and a willingness to live in others' hearts. Jesus was not a man for others. He was one with others. There is a world of difference in that. Jesus didn't seek the rights of lepers. He touched the leper even before he got around to curing him. He didn't champion the cause of the outcast. He was the outcast. He didn't fight for improved conditions for the prisoner. He simply said, "I was in prison."
Continuing the idea of inclusion versus exclusion, Boyle writes,
Scripture scholars contend that the original language of the Beatitudes should not be rendered as "Blessed are the single-hearted" or "Blessed are the peacemakers" or "Blessed are those who struggle for justice." Greater precision in translation would say, "You're in the right place if . . . you are single-hearted or work for peace." The Beatitudes is not a spirituality, after all. It's a geography. It tells us where to stand.

Compassion isn't just about feeling the pain of others; it's about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. "Be compassionate as God is compassionate," means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.
In his interview with Krista Tippett, Boyle spoke of our duty to delight. In his memoir he writes,
Dorothy Day loved to quote Ruskin, who urged us all to the "Duty to Delight." It was an admonition, really, to be watchful for the hilarious and the heartwarming, the silly and the sublime. This way will not pass again, and so there is a duty to be mindful of that which delights and keeps joy at the center, distilled from all that happens to us in a day.
Boyle's ideas are lofty, and I'm not sure how to apply them in my daily life, where I talk to co-workers on the phone, and care for our beagle, and hang out with my husband. I'm not immersed in the needs of gang members, as Boyle is, and yet somehow, I need to find a way to connect and serve in the community, and to share in the delight as well.

This is a terrific book; I recommend it without reservation.

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