Tag Archive | social justice

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

Knitting in the Round: Casting on a Circle of Story

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Usually when I knit I use circular needles. Lighter than straight needles, circulars are flexible, nimble quick to the touch. Circulars make it possible to knit in the round.

Recently, Mia, a young dynamic young social worker with sparkling dark eyes, asked me to teach her to knit. We had met on a social justice retreat where I was knitting socks on two circular needles. We briefly chatted over a lunch of mung bean soup and warm multi-grain bread, and I was pleasantly surprised when she e-mailed me several weeks later about knitting.

We met for coffee and pulled out the needles. I started to cast on, knit one pearl two, create ribbing. Mia talked about her commitment to counseling women who struggle with poverty and abuse. I smiled at her excitement on becoming an advocate for justice for these women. As she reflected on what had lead her to that path, I saw her childhood in the crisp golden autumn of a Michigan upbringing.

The conversation turned to my daughters so close to her in age and to Aunt Margie who gave me my first set of needles decades ago–to my story.

Finally, we talked about faith.

  • What keeps the spark of the divine within us alight despite the failings of religious structures?
  • How do you get past rhetoric and dogma to hold what you know is true?
  • Where does integrity lie?

At the end of the morning I wasn’t surprised that we had only completed a few rows. Instead we has created a circle of story.

Next time, perhaps we will knit socks.

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

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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.

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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.

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Day Lilies: We Choose How We See the World

Day Lilies at Carondelet Pottery

Day Lilies at Carondelet Pottery

When I am throwing pots at Carondelet Pottery, I usually take a break and sit in the garden. And when I do, I make a choice. I can choose to focus on the weeds that need pulling or the fence that I have been meaning to paint, or I can choose to see day lilies blooming.

Every day we have times when we choose how we see the world.

Later that morning as I was emptying the trash at the studio I saw two men fishing for cans in the dumpster. This presented me with several choices.

I can choose to ignore them.

I can choose to inform them in no uncertain terms with only a glance, not words, that they shouldn’t be fishing in the dumpster and that they had better not knock trash into the alley.

Or I can choose to say, “Good morning.”

Which is what I did. And they responded with “Good morning” as well.

We had a brief conversation about the beautiful weather, the nice people at the Methodist church a few blocks away, and the price of scrap metal. All three of us made a choice about how we saw each other that morning.

And it was the beginning of a lovely peaceful day.

Day Lily, Carondelet Pottery

Day Lily, Carondelet Pottery

The Red Barn

The red barn, Winfield, MO

The red barn, Winfield, MO

A few weeks ago I went with Michael to pick up a package of bees near Winfield. One of my hives had died out after an unexpected snowstorm in March. They were my favorite hive–Carniolan bees, gentler than the Minnesota hygienic Italian bees I usually raise. It was a dreary day with heavy skies and the fields were newly planted with little growth amid the standing water on the Missouri River flood plains.

I was not in the best frame of mind and wished I could have put the whole trip off but the bees could only stay in their temporary package so long before they would die off. As we rounded the bend, I saw it–a weathered red barn in a field of yellow wildflowers. How could I give in to the gloomy day with this reminder that the world was a good and beautiful place?

A few weeks later I was on the radio talking about a new youth summer jobs program the foundation had initiated. These programs are common in other large cities but there was currently no organized widespread effort in our community.

It had been a long haul. We had had some success and two hundred young people would have jobs. Donors had come forward from the business and philanthropic sectors and we had garnered support from the local government as well.

It had not, however, been easy. The foundation’s motivation was grounded in social justice. The rationale for business’s support related to workforce development and economic growth. The governmental involvement meant balancing political realities. Fundamentally, everyone wanted the project to succeed, but the behind-the-scenes work to develop the actual program, create realistic expectations and manage relationships took an inordinate amount of time and energy. Being on the radio was a piece of cake compared to all of that. I was tired.

After the radio show a friend texted me and said she had heard the radio program and it was great. And then a colleague sent me an e-mail in which she acknowledged that it must have been tough navigating all of the relationships to bring the program to fruition but that it was worth it; she thanked me.

A red barn in a field of yellow flowers.

Relationships: Begin as You Mean to Go on

Blue/Purple Vase, Carondelet Pottery

Blue/Purple Vase, Carondelet Pottery

When I am throwing at the wheel, typically I begin as I mean to go on. As I center the clay, I am intentional. For a vase, I keep my left hand firm against the side to maintain a centered clay column; I push down with my right fist and strong arm the clay into a flat disc to create what will become a plate. I begin as I mean to go on.

Recently, a friend was worried about how she would work with a new colleague. She liked this person but, as an introvert, she was worried about being overshadowed. Would she be second fiddle, not because he put her in that place but because she placed herself there?

I told her quite simply,

Begin as you mean to go on.

At meetings, continue to share your perspective and not hold back because your new colleague is the extrovert. Continue doing your part of the work, and don’t carry his water.

It may appear to you that he doesn’t have all of his ducks in a row for a meeting, but don’t begin by assuming he is unprepared and then put yourself in a support role to provide what you think he needs to make his presentation a success. He is a professional and his way of preparing might be quite different, but still successful. And if turns out you were right and he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been, he will learn to do a better job the next time.

You need to establish an equitable relationship from the start and not place yourself in a subordinate role. You are, in fact, colleagues. If you represent yourself as support staff, that is how he will treat you.


When I throw that vase, I establish the parameters from the outset. Because if it starts as a plate, it is almost impossible to force the clay back into a cylinder and pull it up into a vase. The clay particles have been pushed in a different direction. Even if you do force it back, the results are usually not happy.

Begin as you mean to go on.