“All we’re asked to do is to be in the world who God is,” Fr. Gregory Boyle reminds us. “Certainly, compassion was the wallpaper of Jesus’ soul, the contour of his heart, it was who he was. I heard someone say once, ‘just assume the answer to every question is compassion.’”
Okay. Count me in. But I wonder, how do we assume compassion in a world on edge, distracted, and cynical? What does that look like?
Boyle (“G” to the young men and women in the neighborhood) tells the story about a particularly exasperating homie named Sharkey. “I switch my strategy and decide to catch him in the act of doing the right thing. I can see I have been too harsh and exacting with him, and he is, after all trying the best he can. I tell him how heroic he is and how the courage he now exhibits in transforming his life far surpasses the hollow bravery of his barrio past. I tell him that he is a giant among men. I mean it. Sharky seems to be thrown off balance by all this and silently stares at me. Then he says, ‘Damn, G… I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.'”
The streets of Los Angeles are not a world I know. Far removed from my childhood and the cornfields of southern Michigan. Even so… more than ever, I need to tattoo these truths on my own heart.
“Our common human hospitality longs to find room for those who are left out. It’s just who we are if allowed to foster something different, something more greatly resembling what God had in mind. Perhaps, together, we can teach each other how to bear the beams of love, persons becoming persons, right before our eyes. Returned to ourselves.” (Tattoos on the Heart, Fr. Gregory Boyle’s stories from Los Angeles, CA about his ministry, Homeboy Industries, and presence in the “gang world,” hoping that we “recognize our own wounds in the broken lives and daunting struggles of the men and women in these parables.”)
I confess that we preachers find it seductive to sermonize. Depending on the crowd size. But today, we don’t need a sermon. We do need stories to settle our spirit. And to tattoo these truths on our heart.
Growing up, Christianity was about creed. About professing. (It’s similar to wanting the right answers to test questions.) And we were eager to point out those who stood on the outside, meaning the wrong side.
In a national magazine, an ad for the Humane Society minced no words. Above an adorable puppy and kitten, the ad read, “It’s who owns them that makes them important.”
To assume the answer to every question is compassion, is not about creed. This is about who or what owns us.
Mother Teresa once told a roomful of lepers how much God loved them. She told them that they are “a gift to the rest of us.”
Interrupting her, an old leper raises his hand, and she calls on him. “Could you repeat that again?” he asks. “It did me good. So, would you mind; just saying it again.”
Yes please. Just say it again.
We easily forget, don’t we… the cathartic power of grace? The power to shine the light on shame and fear and paranoia. To invite us to bear the beams of love. To invite us to be the kind of person we want to be.
Here’s the deal: Today, let us remember who we are.
Yes, much of this was triggered as I spent time staring at photos. Children taken from their parents.
I cried, sitting at my computer. Tears are called for. And I heard a voice in my head, to my shame, “Don’t talk about it, it’s political.”
If you mean Jesus’ passion for a transformed world, yes, it is. “Love does no harm to a neighbor,” the Bible tells us. “Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
But more than political, this is personal. Because that child is me. And you.
This isn’t easy, because to embrace that child within, is to embrace all that is vulnerable and broken within us. But that, Bryan Stevenson reminds us, is when healing begins. “I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity… But simply punishing the broken—walking away from them or hiding them from sight—only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity… Embracing our brokenness creates a need for mercy.” (Bryan is a lawyer, social justice activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.)
Broken I do understand. It doesn’t help that I’ve always seen it as an impairment.
How do we assume compassion in a broken world? I like this story about a woman named Sarah. An ordinary woman with a peculiar habit. You see, every Saturday, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses make their neighborhood rounds, she invites them in. And begins by saying, “I’m glad to see you. I’m not going to covert, but you all are welcome to stay for tea.” And every Saturday, the missionaries do just that.
Another time, a salesman dropped in–old fashioned door-to-door, selling vacuum cleaners. “Come on in,” she tells him. “I need to tell you that I’m not going to buy, and my baby is asleep, so no loud demo, but you look like you’ve had a long day, would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Why?” the salesman asked.
“Well, this may sound strange, but I actually believe that God may be found in any person, so I’m offering you coffee because you might be Jesus.”
I’m certain that for the salesman, it was easily his strangest house call ever; but he sat for a spell, and enjoyed the coffee.
Today, bearing the beams of love, let us remember who we are.
Five years ago, I walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama (site of Bloody Sunday 1965, when marchers for Voter’s Rights were beaten by State Police) with a delegation led by Congressman John Lewis. (John Lewis was with that 1965 march and beaten.) I was reminded this week, watching a conversation between Lewis and David Letterman. “I thought I was going to die,” Lewis calmly tells Letterman without a hint of exaggeration. “There was something, some force, that was just pushing us on. Some force pushing us on to be inspired and lifted up.”
Could it be that the force is bearing the beams of love?
I say yes…
It is Father’s Day. Yesterday my son and I enjoyed a visit to Vashon’s Heritage Museum and an afternoon matinee.
Today, US Open Golf, not for the faint of heart, a course making pros look mortal.
The garden, my sanctuary, is a reminder of grace, unearned, unstinting and indefatigable.
Quotes for your week…
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah: all the rest is commentary. Hillel (Talmud, Shabath 31a)
The self cannot survive without love, and the self, starved of love, dies. James Gilligan
POEMS AND PRAYERS
My life is like a coloring book,
with lines I’m supposed to honor.
Coloring inside the lines
has never been my goal
but I find myself doing it
never the less.
One of these days I’ll fling
caution to the winds
and brazenly dig in my heels.
I’ll do the coloring and then
let someone else provide the lines.
I would not give a fig for the simplicity
this side of complexity, but I would give my life
for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
All these years, tomes too heavy
to carry. The storage room crammed with
boxes of “aha” journals. All the money
spent on sages. All the fretting, longing, talking.
After all these years, it comes to this:
The salad for dinner is prepared with more
imagination. Crunchy broccoli, anise, greens,mi
nt, basil, tarragon. Shaved radishes, purple
cabbage, salad turnip. Pepitas, sesame and
sunflower seeds — flash toasted in a frying pan.
They close their computers
eat more slowly than usual.
She washes the dishes, a job usually his,
trails her hands in soapy water. Listens
as he practices the piano. Bridge
Over Troubled Water.
When she takes the recycling to the curb,
another of his tasks, the sliver of moon
holding court in an indigo sky
causes her to come to a complete stop.
* Dayenu. Hebrew (loosely translated it is enough.)
Jennifer (Jinks) Hoffmann
My Prayer For You
When you’re lonely I pray for you to feel love.
When you’re down I pray for you to feel joy.
When you’re troubled I pray for you to feel peace.
When things are complicated I pray for you to see simple beauty in all things.
When things are chaotic I pray for you to find inner silence.
When things look empty I pray for you to know hope.