The following is part of a discussion that Father Greg Boyle, founder and director of Homeboy Industries had with Krista Tippet of On Being:
“Lately I’ve been reading the Acts of the Apostles really carefully. And if you start to read it and think it’s kind of a quaint snapshot of the earliest Christian community, that’s one thing. But what if you were to read it as a measure of the health of any community? So you see how they love one another or there is nobody in need in this community, for example. But my favorite [part of the story] leaped of the page to me. It says, “And awe came upon everyone.” The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship. And so that means the decided movement towards awe and giant steps away from judgment.
How can we seek a compassion that can stand in awe at what people have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it? I think that’s sort of the key here. That’s the place of health in any community, forget Christian community. In any community, that’s how you know that you’re healthy. Recently I gave an all-day training to 600 social workers, a training on gangs. I had two homies with me, and one of them was a guy named José. He’s in his late 20s, and he now works in a substance abuse part of our team, a man in recovery — had been a heroine addict and gang member and tattooed.
He gets up and he says very offhandedly, “You know, I guess you could say that my mom and me, we didn’t get along so good. I guess I was six when she looked at me and she said, ‘Why don’t you just kill yourself? You’re such a burden to me.” Well, the whole audience gasped and then he said, “It sounds way worser in Spanish.”
Then he said, “You know, I guess I was nine when my mom drove me down to the deepest part of Baja California, and she walked me up to an orphanage and she said, ‘I found this kid.’” And then he said, “I was there 90 days until my grandmother could get out of where she had dumped me and she came and rescued me.” And then he tells the audience, “My mom beat me every single day. In fact, I had to wear three T-shirts to school every day.” And then he kind of loses the battle with his own tears a little bit. And he says, “I wore three T-shirts well into my adult years because I was ashamed of my wounds. I didn’t want anybody to see them. But now my wounds are my friends. I welcome my wounds. I run my fingers over my wounds.”
And then he looks at this crowd, and he says, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?” And awe came upon everyone because we’re so inclined to kind of judge this kid who went to prison, is tattooed, and is a gang member, and homeless, and a heroine addict, and the list goes on. But he was never seeking anything when he ended up in those places. He was always fleeing the story I just told you.”