Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion - Book Review

Here's something I can't stop thinking about lately - What does it mean to love extravagantly? I caught a clip of an interview with Elizabeth Edwards where she was asked what she would say to others who are dealing with a terminal illness. Her response was honest and true - she would remind them that today they are alive. I found myself stewing over this... because it's true, we're all terminal, right? We all have an expiration date. But today we are alive.

I think Ms. Edwards was making the point that the living ought not waste alive hours worrying over everything that comes when those hours tick away. I see her point. I do. But I couldn't help but feel that as a believer, my outlook should be the very opposite. Yes, this life is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated, but the real reason I am here is not to lace up a ballgown and waltz the years away. It occurred to me, with more clarity than before, that in the infinite span of time that I do not walk this earth, there will be people left behind who will not be loved by me. And I'm not talking about my kids. Or my parents. Or my friends (pretend and otherwise). Those whom I love fiercely would surely carry my love with them. They are not "the problem". The problem, it seems, are those who may only ever feel love from me. From you.

You don't think such people exist? I wasn't so sure, myself...


Weeks after this internal dialogue du jour began rattling around, I picked up the book Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle. Page one, I was hooked.

Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit pastor in Los Angeles, California understood that it was his job here on earth to love those who many would say were unreachable at best, unlovable at worst - gang members with the highest percentage of murderous activity in LA. He didn't love them on paper, or with just the vapor of his breath. He didn't send them checks in the mail or give them last year's Winter coat. He loved them fully. He loved them in the very ways you love your babies and I love mine. He imparted Christ's grace, His hope. He nudged them toward seeing, in his words, "the Lord, disguised as themselves." He came to know them, and in the process, he came to recognize himself as one of them.

"The truest measure of [compassion] lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them."

Over and over, in prose that floats like a butterfly and then stings with a gunshot/an F-bomb/despair, Father Boyle asks the question, "How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have?"

And I ask myself, how would my life look different if I knew the answer?

I continue to ask the question as I read tale after tale of lives that were transformed; not by Boyle's bravery, charisma or mastery of Latino street slang, but by compassion and love.

Before long, it all has me thinking that maybe this world doesn't have to be so bleak. Maybe there is hope for every man. I start to think big.
"Out of the wreck of our disfigued, misshapen selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves. And we don't grow into this - we just learn to pay better attention. The 'no matter whatness' of God disolves the toxicity of shame and fills us with tender mercy. Favorable, finally, and called by name..."
I believe that I can say with relative certainly that I have not been called to the LA barrios. But I am starting to get an inkling of where I am called to be. I most surely was not put on this earth to decorate my house and grow beets in my garden - those just happen to be the varieties of silliness that God placed in my heart. The laugh track for my real jobs.

If you are asking some of these questions...if you recognize that you were made for more...if you are excited by redemption, pick up this book. It is gritty and rated PG-13, but you can handle it. I know you can. You may not fully agree with all of the tenets of Mr. Boyle's theology, but I promise you, you will believe in the cornerstone of all that he is and all that he does - love.

Go here to purchase this book, the proceeds of which are directed 100% to Homeboy Industries, the non-profit organization founded and directed by Gregory Boyle. Read more about Homeboy Industries here.