I had heard of Father Gregory Boyle many years ago. I knew of his reputation for working with gang members in some of the most violent neighborhoods in L.A. But beyond the tidbits that I had gleaned from his reputation I didn’t really know the full story or what the fuss was all about. When I saw him being listed as a speaker at Columbia Presbyterian Church-Vancouver (in conjunction with Columbia Future Forge) I quickly penciled the event into my calendar hoping that when the time arrived I would still be able to carve out a Saturday afternoon to see what all the fuss was about.
I was not disappointed. In fact this simple man who has risen to near celebrity status became the source of a few epiphanies for me. How this happened on the actual day of Epiphany, January 6, is one of those mysterious holy coincidences, but I’ll take it.
I have preached for years that this Jesus figure whom we worship and adore had a habit and a way of turning the world upside down. You know what I mean: “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” and “If you want to save your life you have to lose your life for my sake.”
I remember when I read years ago in Matthew Fox’s book A Spirituality Named Compassion where he made the distinction between compassion and pity. He said that most of what we call compassion on the charitable side of the church is actually pity. Ooh, that hurts! Pity maintains a separation between people and assumes a hierarchy. Compassion is an act between equals.
I have read these words, heard these words and preached these words, but it was Father Boyle who brought these words home for me. He told of a situation where a person asked him, “Father Boyle, it is all well and good this work you do with gang members, but what I really want to know is, ‘when do you bring them to Christ.'” As Father Boyle tells the story he grimaces a little and then relates, “I don’t bring them to Christ. They bring me to Christ.” Boom! Turning the world upside down!
He echoed this theme in numerous ways throughout his talk. At one point he said that we in the church often feel like we have to go out and save these people as if what we have is somehow superior to what they have. Then he said, “I don’t work with gang bangers in order to save them. I work with them so that they can save me.” Then he reiterated that to be saved is to erase the false barriers that separate us one from another just as Jesus said, “I have come that you might be one, just as I and the Father are one.”
As I settle into this new position as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission I wonder what Father Boyle’s call is to us in this time. I wonder what we must do in order to be saved. I wonder who we will meet who will save us as much as we save them.