Tuesday, December 27, 2016

G enjoins delight

Fr. Gregory Boyle has learned more than a thing or two over three decades living among, attending to, and serving "homeboys," "cholos," and other assorted outlaws in Los Angeles. The Jesuit priest served as pastor at Dolores Mission and then founded Homeboy Industries, a sprawling non-profit conglomerate program of employment opportunities and healthy life experiences for gang kids and other suffering Angelenos. Law enforcement has never been unequivocally supportive, but Boyle has won widespread recognition from funders, academics and civic authorities for work that no one else much wants.

In 2010, Boyle, known to his young friends as "G-dog," captured some of what he has learned in a memoir: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. This is not a linear story. Rather it's a carefully composed series of snippets, heartrending and concurrently gloriously hope-filled.

On this vaguely political blog, I'll take the liberty of sharing a short passage that captures the flavor of Boyle's wisdom with political references:

Some time back, at the turn of the century, during a general election, some pundit tried to compare and contrast Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and George W. Bush. He said Bill Clinton walks into a room and wants everyone to like him.Al Gore walks into a room and wants everyone to think he is right. "W" walks into a room and wants the room to know he is in charge. We all feel all of these at one time or another, because they are fear based responses, and it's hard to get out from under that dread. Our frightened selves want only for the gathered to like us, to agree with us, or be intimidated by us. I suppose Jesus walked into a room and loves what he finds there. Delights in it, in fact. Maybe He makes a beeline for the outcasts and chooses, in them, to go where love has not yet arrived. His ways aren't our ways, but they sure could be.

... You want to be there when the poetry happens. Isaiah has God say: "Be glad forever and rejoice in what I create ... for I create my people to be a delight." God thinking we'd enjoy ourselves. Delighting is what occupies God, and God's hope is that we join in. That God's joy may be in us and this joy may be complete. We just happen to be God's joy. This takes some getting used to.

Boyle's story reminded me of the wisdom of Dorothy Day's sense of life in the Catholic Worker movement she founded. (When her diaries were published in 2005, they were titled The Duty of Delight.)

Boyle makes vivid what might seem almost unimaginable to most of us -- LA's barrios where meaningless violence rules, but love persists. I read this as an audiobook and vigorously recommend that format for this one. Boyle reads it himself, intimately and animatedly.

The book serves as a reminder, as Boyle observes:

“God can get tiny, if we're not careful.”

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