“The measure of your compassion lies not in your service of those on the margins, but in your willingness to see yourself in kinship with them.” Gregory Boyle
Us and them. It happens in every stage of life.
First grade girls giggle behind tiny hands as the new girl enters the playground. How do they instinctively know that she’s somehow different? Is it her clothing? Her way of speaking? Her downcast eyes? Whatever it is, the new girl instantly becomes one of “them” while the “us” group sticks together like Legos.
Us and them. High school’s unwritten rules keep cliques from crossing over. Decade after decade, teens separate themselves into social groups – jocks and cheerleaders, punks and nerds, this gang and that one – whatever the new trends or groups. No one wants to be a “them” so every Freshman hustles to find an “us” to identify with.
Adult versions of “us” and “them” perpetuate through generations, eating the heart out of a tiny but powerful thing called unity.
I grew up in the South in the 1970’s, where train tracks separated “us” from “them” in almost every town. I cringe to recall the wall-building words that flowed so freely from the otherwise loving lips of church-going relatives. Words used to alienate “them” from “us.” Words so ingrained in our Southern culture that they came out of mouths that simultaneously proclaimed the love and grace of God.
How can God accept worship from hearts segregated by the railroad tracks of skin color, language, income or education levels? Does He really sit quietly on His throne while His children derail one another with hatred? Or does He passionately love us – one and all the same, commanding us to do likewise?
Can we truly love one another while something ugly boils beneath our churchy facades? Ferguson is just one tragedy among millions that take place daily upon our planet. The heart of God is pierced by Every. Single. One. Were we more like Him, our hearts would be pierced as well.
I wept through a deeply touching film last week. It’s the story of a Jesuit priest who moves into Latino gang territory and becomes a conduit of God’s love to effect lasting change in the lives of those who are touched by that love. Father Gregory Boyle not only says, “The measure of your compassion lies not in your service of those on the margins, but in your willingness to see yourself in kinship with them” – he lives it.
In my former life, as the wife of a crack-addicted spouse, I came face to face with my own issues with the “us” and “them” mentality. I was part of the “us” who choose not to snort, shoot up or smoke illegal substances. He rode the fence. Sometimes he was like us – clean-shaven, church going, hard working, and tax paying. When he fell off that fence, he instantly (in my mind) became a “them.”
I could not identify with the lifestyle that accompanied his binges. Nor could I accept his almost pleading statement that his druggie girlfriend was “just like us.” In my mind, she wasn’t like me at all. She was (insert any number of ungodly words that a wounded wife might use), but definitely not like me.
In the drafting of my personal memoir on addiction and redemption, I struggled with some of these thoughts as I processed the truth of God’s healing mercy and redemption of all things lost. Although at the time, the fence-rider’s words caused a scream-and-throw-things reaction, hindsight proves him right. She is just like me – a broken sinner in desperate need of God’s grace. I am no more deserving of that than she.
I can no longer sit in my high and mighty seat looking down on her, or “them.” Whether they are different from me because of genetic makeup or lifestyle choices, we are still kin. The blood of Jesus turns us all the same color. His sacrifice makes no distinction between drug addiction or food addiction. All can be forgiven and restored.
May I invite you to join me in laying down our arms (pointing fingers, judgmental thoughts, words and actions) and holding up our palms in “don’t shoot” solidarity with humanity’s masses? Will we serve the marginalized from a place of compassion because each human being is part of the human clique called “us.”
Jesus shed His blood for each one. Can we be like Him and love without condition? Can we be like our brother, Father Boyle, and see ourselves in kinship with those who differ for whatever reason?
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (KJV)
Thank you, Father Boyle (a.k.a. G-Dog), for your example:
If you’d like to see the movie trailer, it’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mYEAwtdsYo
You can find his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion here: http://www.amazon.com/Tattoos-Heart-Power-Boundless-Compassion/dp/1439153159