Posts Tagged ‘Shane Claiborne’

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.

There has been a fair amount of infighting among church-goers Catholic and Protestant over the years, resulting from differing views on scripture and authority. But it never ceases to amaze that doctrinal differences dissipate when Christ’s teachings are applied in the form of a sacrificial life. Case in point, I have met many Christians with critical feelings toward the Catholic church, but I’ve never heard any of them say a bad word about Mother Teresa. Her life of complete sacrificial service has transcended dogma because in her life we were all able to witness the person of Jesus.

Last month, I was fortunate to be able to stop by an exhibit at the Knights of Columbus museum in New Haven honoring the life of Mother Teresa. I accidentally worked through the exhibition in reverse and ended my journey discovering the origin of Mother Teresa, born Gonxha Agnes Bojadijevic in 1910 in Albania.

Writing of her missionary beginnings, she wrote, “I was only 12 years old then. It was then that I first knew I had a vocation to the poor.” In 1928, at the age of 18, Gonxha committed to becoming a nun and wrote in her application letter to the convent, “I don’t have any special conditions, I only want to be in the missions, and for everything else I surrender myself completely to the good, God’s disposal.” The story I read of Mother Teresa’s departure from her hometown of Skopje at the age of 18 reported that the entire town gathered to see her off at the train station. There was no information provided as to whether this occurred due to a common custom of the Albanian people or if in just 18 years, Gonxha had somehow managed to touch the entire village. I like to imagine both being true.

Gonxha was renamed after St. Therese of Lisieux and would go on to touch many more as her love became world renowned. In September of 1946, at the age of 36, Mother Teresa felt God calling her to deeper commitment to serve the poor, specifically to leave her convent with the Loreto order and to live among and serve the poor. This resulted in her founding the Missionaries of Charity, which existed to care for, in her own words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” Mother Teresa described the poor as “not only hungry for bread, but immensely hungry for love.”

I was honored to have a chance to read some of Mother Teresa’s writings displayed in the museum and found myself in awe of her genuine voice and selflessness that was reflected in her attitude toward suffering and displayed in her commitment to living a life of poverty. Once such excerpt that caught my attention read, “I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help (the poor) – to take upon me something of their suffering… for only by being one with them, we can redeem them, that is bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.”

This reminded me of Jesus’ comments to Peter in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” The way the term “gates” is used here seems to indicate that these “gates of Hades” are keeping something or someone trapped inside and that Jesus expects that the church will be attacking (with love) these gates, not the other way around, in a rescue mission to bring good news/gospel to the afflicted/poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to prisoners/oppressed (Isaiah 61:1/Luke 4:18). I would argue this seems to be Mother Teresa’s understanding, that the Light will not only not be overcome by the Dark, but that it is expected that the Light will meet the Dark in its own house and that this is the essence of the Jesus Way. Perhaps this is illustrated best by her own writings, such as her statement that “I have come to love the darkness – for I believe now that it is a part, a very, very, small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth.”

Much was made after Mother Teresa’s death of her own claims that she did not often feel the presence of God in her later years, but I found this excerpt of a letter she wrote to Jesus fascinating:
“- My pain of my separation from You brings others to You and in their love and company – You find joy and pleasure. Why Jesus, I am willing with all my heart to suffer – not only now – but for all eternity – if this was possible. Your happiness is all that I want – for the rest – please do not take the trouble – even if you see me faint with pain – all this is my will – I want to satiate Your thirst with every single drop of my blood that you can find in me – Don’t allow me to do You wrong in anyway. Take from me the power of hurting You. Heart and soul I will work for the sisters – because they are Yours. Each and every one are Yours. I beg of You only one thing – please do not take the trouble to return soon. I am ready to wait for You for all eternity.”

The letter was signed “Your Little One.”

How many Christians have you met whose prayer is for Jesus to NOT return soon because they are so committed to doing the work of the Lord? Or who would offer to suffer for “all eternity” if it was possible as an offering to God? Christianity was truly an all or nothing proposition for Mother Teresa.

In a letter dated April 1, 1988, she wrote “You are welcome to share and give until it hurts – and this really (is) love in action.” Speaking further to this concept, in a 1992 speech given in New York City, she expounded, “Jesus said very clearly, ‘Be ye holy as my Father in heaven is holy.’ And holiness is not the luxury of a few, it is a simple duty for you and for me.” In case you were wondering where to begin in a pursuit of holiness, Mother Teresa said, “We give our hands to serve, and our hearts to love. And that is the beginning of holiness.” And while she mentioned her hands, that wasn’t all she offered in her service.

In November 2009, I had the opportunity to participate in a New Monasticism “School for Conversion” facilitated by the Simple Way and Camden House communities in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ. During the weekend, I had the opportunity to listen to and talk with Shane Claiborne. The entire weekend was mind-blowing, and one small part of that experience was hearing Shane speak about the time he spent volunteering with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Shane reported that each morning began in prayer and that it was during one of these prayer services he noticed Mother Teresa’s rather severely deformed feet.

Afraid to ask, Shane didn’t get the full story until one of the sisters asked him if he had noticed Mother Teresa’s feet. The sister explained that donations of shoes periodically arrived in Calcutta for the Missionaries of Charity and that when a shipment of donations would arrive, Mother Teresa would sort through the shoes in search of the pair in the worst condition. Mother Teresa would then claim that pair as her own out of her desire to make sure that no one else would have to suffer by wearing them, and that consistently practicing this had disfigured her feet. Just Mother Teresa again providing a tangible example of what it means for the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

What if we were to take Jesus seriously? What if we were to follow Mother Teresa’s example of following in the footsteps of Jesus? I imagine much of the petty arguments and doctrinal differences, whether between individuals, or between Catholics and Protestants, would seem insignificant if we actually committed ourselves to living out the gospel. I want to witness Christ, to have a vocation to the poor, but I hesitate to pray for Him to fully live in me the way He did in Mother Teresa. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.