If i was sharing every chapter and excerpt i enjoyed from ‘Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion’ by Father Gregory Boyle, which i have been reading and really being deeply moved by, then the whole book would pretty much be in here. But i am wanting you to get hold of the book and so am only sharing a story or a passage from every couple of chapters in the book. There is some great challenge and inspiration but also moments of great sadness and emotion as Father Boyle has buried hundreds of the gangsters and ex gangsters that worked with him over the years and so a story of hope might a paragraph later be followed by a senseless death. I am hoping that these extracts will keep you motivated and inspired while you wait for your ordered copy of the book to arrive. In this chapter, Father Boyle responds to the question people often ask in terms of ‘How successful is your ministry?’:
‘Sr Elaine Roulette, the founder of My Mother’s House in New York, was asked, “How do you work with the poor?” She answered, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” It’s as basic as crying together. It is about “casting your lot” before it ever becomes about “changing their lot.”
Success and failure, ultimately have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until He was crucified – whichever came first.
The American poet Jack Gilbert writes, “The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this world.” The strategy and stance of Jesus was consistent in that it was always out of step with the world. Jesus defied all the categories upon which the world insisted: good-evil, success-failure, pure-impure. Surely He was an equal opportunity pisser-offer in this regard.
The Right wing would stare at Him and question where He chose to stand. They hated that He aligned Himself with the unclean, those outside – those folks you ought neither to touch nor be near. He hobnobbed with the leper, shared table fellowship with the sinner, and rendered Himself ritually impure in the process. They found it offensive that, to boot, Jesus had no regard for their wedge issues, their controversial amendments or their culture wars.
The Left was equally annoyed. They wanted to see the ten point plan, the revolution in high gear, the toppling of sinful social structures. They were impatient with His brand of solidarity. They wanted to see Him taking the right stand on issues, not just standing in the right place.
But Jesus just stood with the outcast. The Left screamed: “Don’t just stand there, do something.” And the Right maintained: “Don’t stand with those folks at all.” Both sides, seeing Jesus the wrong size for this world, came to their own reasons for wanting Him dead. Both sides were equally impressed as He unrolled the scroll and spoke of “good news to the poor”… “sight to the blind”… “liberty to the captives”. Yet only a handful of verses later, they want to throw Jesus over a cliff.
How do we get the world to change anyway? Dorothy Day asked critically: “Where were the saints to try and change the social order? Not just minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?” Dorothy Day is a hero of mine, but I disagree with her here. You actually abolish slavery by accompanying the slave. We don’t strategise our way out of slavery, we solidarise, if you will, our way toward its demise. We stand in solidarity with the slave, and by so doing, we diminish slavery’s ability to stand. By casting our lot with the gang member, we hasten the demise of demonising. All Jesus asks is, “Where are you standing?” And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, He asks again, “Are you still standing there?”
Can we stay faithful and persistent in our fidelity even when things seem not to succeed? I suppose Jesus could have chosen a strategy that worked better (evidence-based outcomes) – that didn’t end in the Cross – but He could’t find a strategy more soaked with fidelity than the one He embraced.
[from the chapter titled ‘Success’]
and a little further on:
Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I’m not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us the good ones.
Myriad are the examples at Homeboy Industries of homies colouring way outside the lines and being given their ninety-eighth chance. Maybe it’s because we are often forced to start where others have stopped. Some of my senior staff wanted to change our motto, printed on our T-shirts, from “Nothing stops a bullet like a job” to “You just can’t disappoint us enough.” Others would mention that there seems to be no consequences for some actions, and, of course, in the real world, there are consequences. Someone told me once, “I mean, what’s it take to get fired at Homeboy – release nerve gas?” When it seems the best thing for a person, I have, often enough, fired someone. I call the person in and say, “The day won’t ever come when I will withdraw love and support from you. I am simply in your corner until the wheels fall off. Oh, by the way, I have to let you go.” They always agree with me. Nearly always.
There is no question that everybody working at Homeboy would have been fired anywhere else [including me, I suppose – just ask my board]. But as Mark Torres, S.J., beloved spiritual guide at Homeboy Industries, says, “We see in the homies what they don’t see in themselves, until they do.”
There was a homegirl, straight out of prison, with award-winning and alarming tattoos all over her face. She began work at the silkscreen. First day, a fight. Second day, she came in utterly illuminated on “chronic” [marijuana]. Third day, she arrived at work, in a car filled with her homies [this is against our rules]. Oh, and the car was stolen [this is against, well, everybody’s rules]. I suppose we could have fired her. And yet we decided, with all the “no matter whatness” we could muster, that she would give up on us long before we would ever give up on her. And give up she did. She just stopped showing up. We’ll be ready for her when she comes back. You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behaviour is recognised for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.
Jesus jostled irreparably the purity code of the shot callers of His day. He recognised that it was precisely this code that kept folks from kinship. Maybe success has become the new purity code. And Jesus shows us that the desire for purity [nine times out of ten] is, in fact, the enemy of the gospel.
Funders sometimes say, “We don’t fund efforts; we fund outcomes.” We all hear this and think how sensible, practical, realistic, hard-nosed, and clear-eyed it is. But maybe Jesus doesn’t know why we’re nodding so vigorously. Without wanting to, we sometimes allow our preference for the poor to morph into a preference for the well-behaved and the most likely to succeed, even if you get better outcomes when you work with those folks.
If success is our engine, we sidestep the difficult and belligerent and eventually abandon “the slow work of God”.
Failure and death become insurmountable.