Last Monday night, my super rad wife and I went to Brophy College Preparatory to listen to one of my super rad wife’s heroes speak on the topic “Theology in the City.” I know that probably sounds super boring, but stick with me a bit longer and it will get less bland. The hero speaker’s name is Greg Boyle and he is a Jesuit Priest, author of a best selling book entitled, Tattoos on the Heart, and a friend, mentor, and confidant to countless gang bangers in south central LA. Yep, gang bangers.
He is an interesting speaker on topics such as Theology in the City, because he is a polished, white-haired, white-bearded, white-skinned, celebate priest, who has lived and moved and had his being in one of the most gang-saturated neighborhoods in America. He came to his Brophy presentation with two “homies” by his side. One homie had short hair and Latino skin, the other had black dreds and black skin. They all live in the same neighborhood and work at the same place called Homeboy Industries, which Father Greg founded. (It’s worth checking out: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Xrt0eXsUyN8)
Father Greg is deeply schooled in the compassion of our Lord Jesus and possesses a vast array of memorized philosophical and theological writings. With artistic and tasteful words, he spoke to us out of his intriguing kinship interactions with deeply scarred gang members over the last 30 years. (He also used choice curse words because of the “hood” context he lives in, and I think, because he enjoyed seeing some people squirm a bit.)
The two homies who spoke prior to Father Greg were young men who have been deeply schooled in the cruelty of humanity. They shared a vast array of painful images and memories, opening us up to a world of family pain and tortuous identity crises that many of us have never experienced. They spoke in a toned down version of their neighborhood speech. They spoke with candor and brief moments of uncertainty. They spoke to us about their refreshing and emboldening interactions with the kinship Father Greg offers them at Homeboy Industries,and with kinship offered by the deeply scarred savior, Jesus the Christ.
In all, Father Greg’s words were beautiful, the example of kinship the three men displayed was beautiful, and the honest and hopeful sentiments the homies expressed were beautiful. I wrote down a few notes from the night:
“The highest form of spiritual maturity is tenderness.”
“We need not see our service as helping anyone. It is our kinship that helps.”
And my favorite of the night was:
“We don’t go to the margins to make a difference. We go to the margins to be made different.”
There is a form of kinship described in John 17 that defies all prior definitions of the word kinship. In John 17, Jesus, the God man, prays to His Father that we may be one with Him just as He is one with the Father. The kinship Jesus is praying for is not based on family, blood, neighborhood, or ethnicity traits. This John 17 kinship is based on the image of God that abides in God, obviously, and abides in us, surprisingly.
To take it one powerful and necessary step further, the John 17 kinship is not just between us and God. It also deals with us and us. The kinship Jesus is praying for is possible and commanded by God because God placed His image in every single human being that has ever lived. So, our oneness, or kinship, with each other is just as important to God as our oneness, or kinship with each other. The two go hand in hand. That is why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love God,” but the second is just like the first one, to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Currently our society seems to be pulsing with a fear of the other. It is like when we look through the window we are afraid of others and when we look in the mirror we are ashamed of ourselves. We have lost sight of the beautiful image of God that is in everyone else, and in us, as well. We may notice the pretty or ugly, young or old, light or dark skin of someone else before we notice the image of God; but if we keep looking, we will always find it.
Next time you are in a crowded room, go ahead and look around. Look to see what God has done. Notice the creativity and craftsmanship. And remember what the apostle John said, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.”