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.

27 comments:

  1. Thank you so much . . . I needed to hear this today!

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  2. I was looking for book #3 for my summer reading list... this just might have to be it! Thanks!

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  3. I heard him interviewed on NPR. He sounded like a pretty cool dude. Inspiring.

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  4. i have been having this conversation for awhile - prompted a great deal by living in indiana, interestingly! - although from a different direction. i'll definitely keep an eye out for the book.

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  5. You read my thoughts! I have been thinking about this sort of thing a lot lately. Jesus didn't hang out in the "safe" places, he was usually found among the outcasts, the fringes of society, the "unclean" as it were. If we want to serve Him, shouldn't we put ourselves there too in some meaningful way?

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  6. I really may have to read this book. I have been having these kind of thoughts recently. I wrote a bit about it here: http://www.frundy.com/an-eye-opening-evening/ When did I get so caught up in my life that I forgot about His plan? Lately, really since that evening, I have been feeling like there is so much more that I could do. I'm just trying to keep my ears and heart open to His calling. Thanks for the book suggestion!
    P.S. Your guest post yesterday was so poetic! Just beautiful!

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  7. Love it! Sounds like a fantastic book - one to really get the wheels turning.

    Love hearing what God is doing in your life.

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  8. I am continually inspired by you. You've written several posts where God spoke right through your words...smack in my gut.

    I'm going to order this book.

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  9. You know what you said,-- "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."-- is precisely the opposite of what God is finally getting me to understand. The beauty of my home, garden, my scraps of this and that, the beauty that I see in old rusty things is not silly and in deed are my gift to Him. But, what is even more amazing, that I am trying to wrap my mind around, is that He wants to share it with me!

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  10. This is one of my all time favorite books! My heart is on the streets with these kids that turn into these adults. Thanks for sharing your heart, its good to know that there are other like minded people out there.
    xx

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  11. have you read the cross and the switchblade? It's amazing too...thanks for the recommended read. I have to get it now. I love these sorts of books~
    and I'm kinda bummed you haven't been called to L.A.'s streets...you'd be closer to me!

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  12. going there now to buy this book. it's interesting how you get inklings of what you are called to do....i am feeling it right now. something literally fell in my lap, most unexpectedly. i'm embracing it...turning it over in my mind. i'm about to commit. i'll let you know when i do. xoxo

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  13. p.s. Your beet garden is important to Him. If you knew how much your gardening and mothering ways inspire me to live better, more godly, more faithfully, you would know...that the small things are big things when everyone's watching...and I'm always watching :)

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  14. The book sounds wonderful. And for the record:-)..the Lord asks that everything we do be for the glory of God. Whether you decorate, plant beets, raise your precious babies...do it all for His glory. There will be a time when those babies are bigger and the Lord then shows you new ways to glorify His name. What you are doing now matters in every. single. way.

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  15. I have been teaching elementary age children for 16 years in Christian schools. These children and their families have issues, some are superficial, but there are the few that must deal with heart issues of children that are "not perfect." I may not be on the front lines of the war on drugs, gangs,or bullying, but what I do know is that God has drawn me closer to the ones who need that "extra" attention. They must be told that they are needed, wanted and very important!

    This book sounds like it must be a member of my personal library. Thanks for sharing!

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  16. One of my favorite quotes, "Grace is the love that gives, that loves the unlovely and the unlovable". Oswald C. Hoffman I have known about this book and even heard the interview on NPR, it is now time that I pick it up and read. I once was unlovable and God put in my path, a women, who gave most of her waking hours to helping me. She didn't know me, nor did I know her, but God has a way of making lives intersect. Thank you for the reminder. xo

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  17. this hit home for me. i need to be more actively listening for His call on my life. i'm also inspired by some of these comments. as a stay-at-home mom of a 13 month old, sometimes i get lost in the mundane and feel that maybe i'm not out doing God's work... but i am reminded that this little man is God's plan for me in this moment. i want to be God disguised for my son. this has got me thinking!!! great read this morning!

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  18. I'm definitely going to go pick up the book. I teach in a low income elementary school here, and I have had those kids that seem unlovable in my room - so I know what you're talking about. For the longest time I thought I wanted to become a stay at home mom and homeschool my son (he's only 18 mos - so I've got awhile) but more and more lately I've been seeing signs and feeling like that isn't what God wants me to do with my life. You're post is another reminder to me - that teaching is where I'm supposed to be even when the days are rough and I'd much rather be home loving on my little man.

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  19. wow, beautiful post. you've once again inspired me!

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  20. I JUST got done posting about my 2 fave books when I started reading all the blogs and I happened here of course. This book sounds good, heart changing. One of mine was Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. You cannot think the same about our cushy American lives after reading that. have a great weekend!

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  21. This book sounds like a wonderful read... once I make my way through the stack on my side table, I may have to pick this one up.

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  22. Love the title of this book and one that I will check out.

    Thanks for the suggestion. And just for the record... you are making all kinds of tattoos on the hearts of those around you!!!

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  23. I am adding this book in my list to read. I am reading Experiencing the Spirit by Henry and Melvin Blackaby now. I have Heaven by R. Alcorn up next and then Crazy Love. I don't have enough hours in the day for all I want to read! Thanks for the tip! :)

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  24. I must read this book now! If your post about it is this profound and motivating, I can't wait to see how moving the book is!

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  25. I really enjoyed your thought provoking post, thanks. I've been reading a few books by John Burke (Soul Revolution) that has really helped me get my head around abundant love "If God is love, and if we love him because he first loved us, what does that mean about all love you’ve ever experienced? Think of all the love you’ve given or received – where did it come from? It’s borrowed! It’s borrowed from God. You’ve never experienced a love whose source did not originate in God’s love for you. It’s true, whether you realize it or not."
    i believe that the abundant life is a life of asking God to empty us completely of ourselves. When we do this, there is room for God to do his amazing work in us and through us, he pours out his abundant love to us to disperse to all.
    Look forward to reading more of your posts!

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  27. Oh FPFG, i meandered my way to this post and had to share something a bit trivial that will I'm certain thrill you. Homeboy industries makes chips and salsas. While I haven't had the salsa I have enjoyed the chips (I'm here in LA) and they are yummy. Just thought you'd want to know that this heart thriller can also satisfy your chips/salsa obsession.

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