Posts Tagged ‘On Point’

In the fall of 2001, I encountered Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle for the first time and am ashamed to admit I was not impressed. Father Boyle was speaking as part of the Pepperdine University convocation series and told how founded the nonprofit Homeboy Industries in inner city Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the country. He talked about serving gang involved youth with criminal records by inviting them from criminality into community and creating employment opportunities for them in a bakery and silk screen shop. Father Boyle, better known as “Father G” in his neighborhood of Boyle Heights, reported from the front lines how the light was stepping into the darkness, but I could not comprehend it.

Under Father Greg Boyle's guidance, former gang members and prison inmates find work, community and healing at Homeboy Industries in inner city Los Angeles

“Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” is the Homeboy mantra. “Jobs, not jail,” Boyle said of his social justice entrepreneurial endeavor. But in recounting his interactions with the gang members, Father Boyle also cursed up a storm, speaking like the young people he was working with and arguing that doing so had been an effective means of building rapport. Only 18 years old and in fierce protection of my heirloom faith, I could not see past his riling rhetoric to the incredible significance of his work pulling kids out of gang violence through love. I appreciated that young men and women were giving up gang allegiances to work side by side in reconciliation, but I did not understand why Father Boyle would “stoop to their level” by speaking so profanely. I felt his message was lost in translation. I was a Protestant who didn’t cuss, he was a Catholic who did. It seemed a bridge too far. Never mind that this man was practicing much of what he was preaching and that I was just a child attempting to play Border Patrol on behalf of the church.

I didn’t begin to understand what Father Boyle was about until God placed me in the gang neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles almost immediately thereafter. Many students find work study jobs on campus, mine brought me on weekends to Raymond Street, a boundary line separating the Crip and Blood neighborhoods in South Central. I’m certain the only reason they entrusted the job to an 18 year old first semester freshman is because everybody else had already said no.

But it was in South Central that for the first time I witnessed injustice in person and was given eyes to see. It was on Raymond Street that for the first time, someone I knew was murdered; a 14 year old whose death attracted no outrage or even a raised eyebrow from society. It was in these streets that I realized you can’t pull yourself up by your boot straps if you weren’t given boots. Perhaps my greatest realization was acknowledging that had I grown up in the neighborhood I was working in, I would have chosen a life of gangs and drugs and that it could have been my body in the outline at the end of the taped off street. God created all men equal we say, but we sure don’t act accordingly.

A decade has now passed since those first Pepperdine days, and wouldn’t you know it, I again encountered Father Greg Boyle this week. Only instead of walking away upset this time, I felt privileged to listen to a humble servant summarize rather succinctly and eloquently what has taken me ten years to begin to learn and process.

Boyle was interviewed, along with two former gang members and current Homeboy employees, by Tom Ashbrook for the NPR’s “On Point” which aired on Monday May 16, 2011. Ashbrook asked Father Boyle about changes he would like to see in society and here’s how he responded:

“Well, I think in the end it’s about creating a community of kinship, such that God in fact might recognize it. So, there’s an idea that’s taken root in the world, it’s at the root of all that’s wrong with it, and the idea is this, that there just might be lives out there that matter less than other lives. And how do we together stand against that idea? And, so, what I think Homeboy seeks to do is to stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop.”

Boyle continued, “In the end if we want justice and we want peace, those things can’t happen without an undergirding sense of kinship where we recognize that it’s an illusion when we talk about them. There’s just us. And you want to seek to bridge anything that separates us or creates the distance. Once you have kinship, you can get to justice and you can get to peace. But if you think there’s an us and a them, we’ve got too far to go. And so that’s the task, the task is to remember that we belong to each other.”

Father G ended by expounding on Acts 2:43 where “awe came upon everyone” upon the founding of the church. “In the end, (awe) is the opposite of judgment, you know? We seek a compassion that can stand in awe at what Loretta and Robin (the former gang members alongside him) have had to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carried it. And so the measure of our compassion really lies not in our service of people, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with folks who are different. And who have had to carry more than I ever was asked to carry. And I grew up just like them in the gang capital of the world. But because I grew up in a certain part of town with two wonderful parents, a trauma free childhood, and wonderful siblings, and opportunities and education, that doesn’t make me morally superior to Loretta and Robin. Quite the opposite. I stand in awe at what they had to carry. And awe came upon everyone. That’s sort of the measure of the quality of our communal life it seems to me, when we can move from judgment to awe.”

Amen.

A lot can change in a decade, thank God. Father Boyle joked that during the first ten years of his gang ministry that times were so turbulent he considered changing the after hours voice mail to say, “Thank you for calling Homeboy Industries, your bomb threat is important to us.” Thankfully, over the past ten years, the organization no longer receives death threats or hate mail and Homeboy Industries stands as a beacon of proof that things can improve, even if hope is built slowly and incrementally.

This sentiment is echoed in “Follow Me to Freedom”, a collaborative effort between civil rights leader John Perkins and modern day prophet Shane Claiborne. In the book, Shane records his first meeting with Mr. Perkins when he shared his frustration that after three years of ministry in North Philadelphia, things did not seem to be improving much. Claiborne writes, “John looked me dead in the eye and, with the gentleness of a father, plainly and sincerely explained the way things work: ‘Oh, Shane, you’ll start to see some things change. You’ll start to see signs of transformation – in about 10 years. Or maybe 12.’ And he didn’t flinch… I gulped… yet somehow I knew he spoke the truth, and it gave me hope.” Now ten years after that first conversation, The Simple Way and other New Monastic communities are providing hope to all of us by pointing to the possibility of another world.

I’m not sure where I’ll be ten years from now, but I am extremely grateful for where God has faithfully led me over the past decade. From Pepperdine and the neighborhoods of South Central, to an amazing woman I am blessed to call my wife and a great adventure in the Big Sky Country of Montana, to this present time in the Northeast enjoying our three beautiful children and preparing to live intentionally in community and plotting a missional church plant on God’s time.

The progress will continue to be slow and incremental I’m sure, but we will continue to pray that we can be led by the Spirit. In the words of Homeboy employee Loretta Andrews, we must not “fear to change.” When we allow change to occur by God’s hand, I believe He will lead us across the bridges of racism, classism, poverty and injustice until we come to a fuller understanding that there really is no them, only us, despite differences in our upbringings, cultures, and language. Jaime and I look forward to committing to a community long term and perhaps a decade from now, we too will be able to say that awe has come upon us.

“Wait a minute Doc. Ah… are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”

Exactly a quarter century ago, on October 26, 1985, Marty McFly traveled back in time thirty years in Back to the Future. The film and the concept of time travel captured my imagination as a kid and continue to fascinate me today.

Doc Brown shows us how the DeLorean works

While the Back to the Future trilogy is entertaining, I enjoyed most anything with a time twist or space time continuum plot line including the late 80’s TV sitcom Out Of This World (starring a girl named Evie who could stop time by touching the tips of her index fingers), the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day and various X-Men comic storylines. Heck, I even remember liking the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme movie Timecop. More recently, I appreciated both the “time turner” action in Harry Potter, the vastly underrated Meet the Robinsons and who doesn’t love Hiro Nakamura? But what is it about playing with time that is so enthralling?

Nearly a decade ago while attending Pepperdine University, I was introduced to Redemptive Cinema and the concept that anything worth watching is usually enjoyable due to some underlying theology supporting the plot and characters. So what might our interest in Back to the Future or the rest of the time related plots above teach us about the nature of God?

Donald Miller has written and spoken a great deal on the redemptive aspect of story and has also commented on the subject of God as He relates to time. The following is from a sermon Don gave at Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon in November 2004:

“God spoke light, and light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated the light from the dark. Okay, so here’s this nothingness. God creates something in the middle of the nothingness. And then the first thing he does with the something, is He puts light in it. Okay, let’s think about this… let’s just think about light. Light. What are the qualities of light? Light travels at the speed of light, we know that. Right? Okay, but that’s something else to think about though… light, because it travels at the speed of light, exists outside of time. So light is not affected by time. What I mean by that is that if a human being were to travel at the speed of light, time would no longer affect him. It’s just a physical law, it’s just a truth… Time because it has a relationship with speed, slows down the faster you go. If you go the speed of light, time will stop. So light is eternal… We know that light is not made up of matter and we know that no physicist on the planet understands light. They can’t explain it… all we know is the quality of light… here’s something you experience but don’t understand. And all the way throughout the text, like a genius, He calls Himself light.”

This excerpt nicely illustrates that in accepting God’s own description of Himself as Light, it follows we should have no issue with believing God exists outside of time as we know it; opening up a world of possibilities and explanations regarding Biblical texts.

For example, in Exodus 3:14-15, when asked to give His name, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.” There is a lot going on in this interaction, but for our purposes, the text appears to indicate an omnipresent God throughout time.

Author, Leslie Marmon Silko, was recently interviewed by Tom Ashbrook on the NPR show “On Point” (10/18/10) and stated, “Linear time itself is a fiction which I find tedious and simple minded.” When asked to comment further, she said, “Well, as best I can understand, what they’ve discovered at the subatomic level… past, present, and future are at that level, it becomes just present… past and future don’t really exist as we know it, what exists is right now… this present moment.”

Now, neither myself nor Ms. Silko are scientists, and this is not meant to be a scientific paper, but what she noted appears to fit with an omnipresent Creator who weaves Himself consistently through the fabric of the human narrative.

In fact, all four gospels are written in the present tense in the original Greek. According to the New American Standard Bible’s Principles of Translation notes, it was believed the “Greek authors frequently used the present tense for the sake of heightened vividness, thereby transporting their readers in imagination to the actual scene at the time of occurrence. However, the translators felt that it would be wise to change these historical presents to English past tenses.” What if, more than a stylistic language choice, the text itself is also attempting to point toward the ever present nature of God, as if Jesus didn’t just say things to his disciples, but that he perhaps literally continues to say them to us today (“and He says to him, Follow Me!” Matthew 9:9).

So God is present, which is comforting, but does he have a sense of past or future? Going back to the concept of God as light, we can know that God amazingly exists outside of time, while simultaneously He is present in all of it. This is where my mind is blown in an attempt to understand His greatness. A God who can see both the future and past while being fully present in this moment, means we have One who is capable of doing some incredible things on our behalf and we see often see this in answered prayers.

I suspect most Christians believe God will hear our prayers for the present moment and that on occasion He answers immediately, and that they also believe God hears and grants petitions in regard to the future. But for a God who exists outside of time, and is somehow still fully present in the past, is it improbable that we might be able to pray into the past and that He would still grant our requests? I don’t imagine God may alter the past significantly enough based on our prayer to change the course of human history, as timing is His business, but might it be possible to pray for deceased loved ones that God may give them an extra sense of peace during a moment of particular crisis during their life now expired life on earth? This doesn’t seem any less plausible to me than the idea of having visions of the future (and if you doubt that glimpses of the future can be given, please feel free to explain the phenomenon of déjà vu).

In the grand scope of the Biblical narrative, it appears God through Jesus and the Spirit is moving forward with the restoration and reconciliation of Shalom, or the way things were created to be interdependently “good”. Only now when humans again arrive in the Garden of Paradise, we will find ourselves matured and more beautiful for having grown through adversity and for being purchased back by Christ’s blood. So in one sense, we are all being restored and are headed back to where things began, but in another, Heaven will be an entirely new creation and a place we’ve never been. Seemingly time is moving backward and forward simultaneously.

Perhaps to address the longing some of us have to gain access to a time machine to right past wrongs or alter history, Timothy Keller notes that when Jesus returns it will be with such power that the “very material world and universe will be purged of all decay and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will be.”

Keller then goes on to quote C.S. Lewis who wrote, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

A God who exists simultaneously outside of time and is present with us in each moment? A God who can answer prayers for the future and the past? A God who is working forward into the future to create a new reality and yet restore an original design? A God who will work backwards to turn agony into glory? Great Scott! That’s some heavy stuff, eh Marty?