Tag Archive | God

Finding God in Kinship 

Recently, as part of the Incarnate Word Foundation’s Project RECON, I was privileged to be present at a talk by Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ.  I wanted to share highlights from his remarks.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ
Homeboy Industries

Fr. Boyle: I am closer to God when I am with the people at our place.

What brings you out tonight is not me, but a ongoing need for an alignment to bring us to the dream of relationship. In the end it is about being in union with one another. We hope the day will come when we stop we throwing people away. No kinship no peace, no kinship no equality. The only way that makes sense is if we anchor ourself in the God who loves us without regret. St. Ignatius says we want to know that God is always greater, and so how do we arrive at that God.

One of the homies was reading a Psalm, and he said ‘The Lord is exhausted.’ Not exalted. I remember thinking at the time that is way better. I like the exhausted God, rather than a God who wants to spend eternity being exalted. It’s good to be exhausted if you are helping other human beings. It’s a good tired. That’s the God we actually have. A God who is loving you.

The God we settle for is a partial God. We always need to be on the look out for the God we actually have, not the God we settle for. When Dylan Roof killed those people in a Charleston church, a week later those families sat in his presence and said, ‘We forgive you.’ That is the God we actually have. But nine months later we settled for the partial God with the death penalty.

We can feel the tender glance of God and then exhaust ourselves in extending that glance to others. The depth of the God we actually have is this exhausted God who is inviting us to the margins to create a kinship with those who are out there. That is the God we know in the deepest part of us. We know that God only wants for us, not from us. We don’t have to measure up, we don’t have to perform. In asking us to create a community of kinship, God is not asking something from us, because it is in that community that the joy is. The joy for us.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ
Saint Louis University
November 2, 2017

I was talking to Whoopi Goldberg, and she said, ‘That Pope Francis, he’s going for the original program.’ What does that say? We all know what the original program is. We know this. It is the God we actually have. We want this. It’s what Jesus wanted.

  • Inclusion 
  • Nonviolence 
  • Compassionate loving kindness

That’s the regular program. We want to role up our sleeves and be in kinship. It’s about exquisite mutuality, about relationship.

I was in the car with Manuel and he is texting with Snoopy. I realized that Manuel and Snoopy are from rival gangs. They used to shoot bullets but now they are shooting texts. They are in kinship.

In our services at Homeboy, we want to align ourselves with that, with the original program. Service is the hallway that gets you to the ballroom, where there is the exclusive mutuality of joy, kinship. God doesn’t want anything from us. God just wants us to be in that ballroom. When it stops at service, there’s a barrier—the service providers and the service recipients. But truth be told all of us are in need of healing. It is one of those things that join us together as a human family.

Dreamer is a super smart kid. He’s very intelligent though I don’t recall that he every went to school. He is in his 40s now and is doing well. But in his 20s he was a yo-yo, in and out of jail. I’d find him jobs, but he’d find himself eventually doing things of vague criminality. And then he’d wander back. He cam back after 4 months in jail and then he said this time it will be different.

So I called Gary at the vending machine place and he said Dreamer could start tomorrow. Two weeks later Dreamer is at my desk again waving his paycheck. He said, “Damn G, this paycheck makes me feel proper. My mom is proud, and my kids aren’t ashamed. And you know who I have thank for this job? God.”

He could tell I thought he was going to say, ‘You, Fr. Greg.’ And he said, “It’s a good thing we aren’t living in Genesis times because God would have struck your ass with lightning.” The two of us fell out of our chairs we were laughing so hard. And I defy you to say who is the service provider and who is the recipient. It’s mutual.

Homeboy started as a bakery. Then we started Homeboy Tortillas. We changed our name to Homeboy Industries. And things grow and evolve. We are the largest gang recently program in the world. We serve 55,000 individuals a year. There are 11,000 gangs in LA. We are healing people. Healing is what it’s about. They come with chromic toxic stress strapped to their backs, and they need relief otherwise they are living for survival. They find sanctuary with us, and then they go home and are a sanctuary for their kids. We promote kinship.

Diane Keaton comes into the Homegirl Cafe. Diane asks what the waitress, a former gang member, would recommend and the waitress responds with three things she likes. Then she says, ‘I think we have met somewhere. I think I know you.’ And Diane says, ‘Oh, I have a face that people just think they recognize.’ Then the waitress says, ‘No, I’ve got it. We were in prison together!’ Oscar winning actress. Attitudinal waitress. I don’t want anything from you. It’s kinship. That quenches God’s thirst.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ & Bridget McDermott Flood

Go to the margins. As I have loved you, so must you have a special referential love for the widow, orphan and stranger. These are folks who know what it is like to be cut off and because they have been cut off in this way God thinks they can lead us to the kinship of God. They are guides and we follow. You are not called to the margins to rescue someone. When we go out there, we all find rescue. The measure of compassion is not in our service to those on the margins, but in our ability to see our kinship with them. The folks at the margins are our trustworthy guides to get us to the community of kinship that is God’s dream come true.

A woman asked me once, “How much time do you spend at Homeboy actually praising God?” And my answer was, “All damn day.”

Recommended Reading:
Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle, SJ
Barking at the Choir, Gregory Boyle, SJ

To learn more about RECON: Framing a New Public Discourse, an initiative of the Incarnate Word Foundation, please see our website, http://www.stlrecon.org #RECONSTL

The Cloud Appreciation Society: Just Breathe

Clouds over the Tractor Road , Ashley, Illinois

Clouds over the Tractor Road , Ashley, Illinois

Not too long ago, a link popped up on my facebook page. Underneath a blue sky and cumulus clouds were the words “Cloud Appreciation Society.” It sounded like something whimsical out of a children’s book. Without hesitation I “liked” their page.

Now every few days I receive a photo of a cloud formation. Stratocumulus, altostratus, and anvil tops. Prior to that my experience had been limited to clouds of the nimbus, cumulus or cirrus variety. The Cloud Appreciation Society takes clouds seriously.

But beyond the cloud classifications, I began looking at the clouds in my own skies. Cloud billows high above the oak pillars of Tower Grove Park in the morning. Cloud wisps drifting past my office window. Receding clouds at sunset, reflecting the opalescent pinks and lavenders of the innermost whorls of sea shells shot through with fiery reds and exploding nova yellows. Cradle clouds cushioning a full moon.

Each a unique moment. Impossible to capture. Life-giving.

As the sun set while I was driving home from Nashville I watched the clouds changing. The beauty of each moment was such a distraction I took the exit for a town called Ashley and pulled off onto a tractor road to just breathe and savor a unique purply sunset, and then continued upon my way, glad to be a part of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Receding Clouds over the Tractor Road, Ashley, illinois

Receding Clouds over the Tractor Road, Ashley, illinois


Prayer Flags and the Four Winds: What Is God Telling Us?


My friend Pat just sent me a set of her prayer flags. Bright symbols of faith and aspiration are tossed by the four winds in my garden. Each morning the bright colors, symbols and messages catch my attention. They are beautiful and it is easy to not notice the wind itself.

At the foundation where I work, I often go next door to Sr. Mary Margaret’s office to debrief after a meeting or a phone call. She possesses a tart realism leavened with affection and wisdom; she is an excellent colleague and mentor. Her German practicality is the ideal counterpoint to my Irish intuition.

There are times when I’ll tell her about a particularly frustrating meeting. Or I may have encountered what appears to be an unjust situation that hurts those who are powerless. Perhaps it is a project that is going awry, a set of policies that actually mitigate against accomplishing the goal.

When I voice my aggravation and annoyance, Mary Margaret’s response is not to commiserate, but to say, “What is God telling you?”

My first thought is usually, ‘I don’t really care what God is telling me. What I care about is how bad or wrong this is and how frustrated I am.’

But later I return to Mary Margaret’s question: What is God telling me using this situation?

And that question leads to others.

What is the underlying message that I am missing when I focus on situation itself rather than on what we are working toward?

How can I stay attuned to what actually needs to be accomplished rather than get mired in negativity?

What is the other perspective that is present and what is the good to be found in that perspective?

Where can we turn to move past the obstacle and build consensus around a solution?

How do I emphasize the inherent value of human relationships rather than get bogged down in being political?

I take time to feel the wind. Because while it is important to see the prayer flags, it is the wind that makes them flutter and dance.


What’s Important Is How We Do It

Surprise Lilies in the Parkway

While I was walking this morning, I was reflecting on a quotation from the woman who founded the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

With God, what we do is less important than how we do it.
Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, SSND

She said those words a century ago, but they speak to my heart today.

At the Incarnate Word Foundation I see many agencies working to serve those in need. Those of us in the funding world pressure them to show measurable outcomes. We want to know that they are effective in delivering services, that they measure their progress toward goals in quantifiable ways, that they are efficient in their use of resources. In response, agency leaders develop elaborate logic models and hire consultants to create service delivery systems.

And while good stewardship is necessary and important, the danger in that is an over-emphasis on what is being done rather than how it is being done.

Are we grounding what we do in compassion, love and respect?

Are we taking time to listen with our heart?

Are we walking with them on their journey?

Do we sit and hold a woman’s hand?

Do we see the spark of the Divine in each person?

So often we focus on getting things done, on accomplishments and outcomes. While we may reach every benchmark, we can lose the love and humanity that should be present whenever we are with others.

Because with God, what we do is less important than how we do it.


The Power of Being Present

Alley Springs MO

An essential part of living Incarnational spirituality is the power of presence. Very seldom are we truly present to others and to ourselves. We live in a constant state of distraction.

Technology brings the work world home and we take pride in being accessible 24-7. Vacations are merely working in another locale as laptops and i-phones keep us connected to the office, but at the cost of being connected to our families, friends, and ourselves. Multi-tasking interferes with our ability to focus on the task at hand. In meetings, it is increasingly rare to have anyone’s full attention.

Recently, I went to a meeting where a philanthropist was talking about her foundation’s work in urban neighborhoods. At the end of her remarks, she asked for questions, and then proceeded to use her Blackberry while simultaneously answering our questions. My suspicion is her texts and tweets are about as trivial for the most part as those that I receive. But what I know for certain is how little value she placed on the conversation at that table that day.

The Power of Being Present

I still remember the first time I experienced the power of presence. I had come to San Antonio to check in with the Congregation and stopped by Sr. Helena Monahan’s office. She was in leadership at that time and her days were spent overseeing the work of a religious order of more than 300 women, traveling to the new missions in Zambia, or working with the University of the Incarnate Word where she was the university’s attorney—her commitments were many.

When I walked through the door, I immediately began our conversation by telling her that I was sorry to interrupt and that I would only need a few minutes to bring her up-to-date on what we were doing in St. Louis.

Her response was to come around the desk, sit down across from me and say, “I am here for you. Take the time the time that you need.“

There is a power in that moment when someone sets everything aside and focuses on what another person has to say. It creates a relationship.

Presence and Incarnational Spirituality

Recently, Helena shared her thoughts on how presence and relationship are essential and stem from Incarnational spirituality.

The divine is in every person. If I put somebody off or don’t take advantage of being with that person, then I have really missed something of that person, of God and of just the experience of living. I try to live that out because it makes life calmer as every moment becomes important.

Sometimes it is challenging to do this when you are with someone that you totally disagree with on important issues. You may just want to scream. That’s the time to step back from your anger and realize this is a human being who has the same reasoning powers and decision-making powers and somehow they’ve come to a different conclusion. I don’t have to agree with them and I can challenge them to the best of my ability and not become emotional. This is a huge discipline.

Recently I’ve been reading and reflecting on Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh which discusses how the tenets of the two faiths are very much alike. A key premise, and I do think it is valid, is that all of life is a continuum.

There is a ‘before I was born’ and there is ‘my life’ and there’s going to be ‘whatever happens after I die’ but really it’s all a continuum. That takes away fear and helps you live in the present moment without worrying about what is going to happen.

It’s very enriching and incarnational since ‘In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.’ The Word will always be. Whatever God is and whatever the Word is – the expression of God – that is what we are trying to live and that is in every person. So that is where I am.