Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure to re-read my favorite book of all time. It’s Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart: The Boundless Power of Compassion. I admit that I cry easily, but still, I do not exaggerate: The first time I read this book, I had to close it and pause at least 20 times due to tearing up.
Greg Boyle tells powerful vignettes about his community at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries provides jobs, counseling, and classes for people who are looking to exit gangs. Many of them are teenagers and young adults. Many have known long spells of incarceration. But long before they ever joined a gang or experienced that incarceration, they have carried deep burdens of trauma. As Boyle says, “Kids who join a gang are not running toward something. They are always running away from something.”
The whole book is filled with compassion, and it works to address an internalized belief we tend to carry, one that distorts our views of others and ourselves – that is, “the sneaking suspicion that some lives are worth less than other lives.”
That is the lie we must confront.
Greg Boyle confronts that lie by telling stories of transformation. He’s a Jesuit priest, and he weaves theological reflection together with stories of his relationships at Homeboy Industries. Throughout the book, he encounters shame with love and compassion. We get to hear the transformative moments when these loved ones truly began to know for themselves that they are worth loving. We might step away from the book coming to know that more deeply for ourselves too.
We need to mirror this kind of love toward one another, especially when a suspicion seems to be growing that some lives are worth less than other lives.
That’s the lie of our age, and it’s simply untrue.
Greg Boyle tells a sweet story about a man and his father, and he opens that story up to speak a conviction about God and human worth. I want to leave it with all of us today for own thinking and our own loving.
As his health was failing, an old man moved in with his adult son, someone that Greg Boyle knows personally. In the evening before bedtime, the son would read aloud to his father. In a beautiful role reversal, the adult son put his father to bed every night.
The son would often invite his father to close his eyes while he read aloud, but over and over again, he would catch his father looking at him. He would say, “Look, here’s the idea. I read to you, you fall asleep.” The father would apologize, but at some point, one eye would eventually pop open.
This went on every single night. When it was time to sleep, the father could not take his eyes off of his own son.
Greg Boyle says that God is like this: “God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval. What’s true of Jesus is true for us, and so this voice breaks through the clouds and comes straight at us. ‘You are my Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.'”
God just keeps looking at us with love and wonder.
Maybe we need to pop one eye open and view each other with this kind of love too – no longer heaping shame upon shame, accusation upon accusation, or stereotype upon stereotype, but viewing one another love and wonder.
One eye inevitably and playfully open.