In the midst of all the swirling, both in the life of the church and my individual life, I was grateful the other night to hear the “Igniting Imagination” podcast with Father Greg Boyle. The podcast is produced by TMF and the Wesleyan Investive, and Father Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries. Many people have heard of his work or read his books; some of our number have even visited Homeboy Industries in person. Father Boyle’s latest book is The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness. If you haven’t heard of him or his work, I encourage you to look it up.
In the podcast, Boyle began by talking about the way he was drawn into working with the poor. First, he said, “I was drawn to the Jesuits, because they were hilarious and prophetic, and I liked being around them. So it was one of those, ‘I’ll have what they’re having’ kind of moments.” It reminded me of the way I think about the United Methodist clergy and laity in my life who keep me going. I like being around them! And they are sometimes hilarious and also prophetic. What a wonderful reason to be attracted to people who are committed to life in the church.
Then he added that he went to Bolivia early in his priesthood, to figure out how he wanted to live out his ministry. And as he lived and worked with the poor, he found that he wanted to be around them, not to serve them or help them, but because he discovered that they are “trustworthy guides to lead the rest of us to the kinship of God.” This is a Biblical word that Boyle found to be true in community. It resonated with me, too, as I recall the places in South America and along the Mexican border, where very poor people taught me what generosity and welcome look like. I am still humbled when I remember the times I was invited to their tables.
Finally, Boyle got around to naming a promise that was a sweet and unexpected reminder to my frazzled heart. He said that the point of being in kinship, with God and other people, is joy. Not grim duty, not obligation, but joy. Another powerful Biblical word, this time from John’s gospel—Jesus tells us to abide in his love and to love each other, so that we may have his own joy in us, and so that our joy may be complete.
So that our joy may be complete. You know the difference between momentary contentment and joy, that deep sense of rootedness and rightness and, often, laughter. That’s what I remember most from really humble places—the laughing. The suffering and hardship are true, too, and I don’t romanticize that. But there’s still also always a comedian, always the laughter to bind people to one another, always the strength taken from being together.
While we figure out our path forward during this challenging time for the church, I can’t think of a more important lesson. God seeks to lead us into kinship, and the by-product of kinship is joy. The people God might want to use to lead us are ones we may not yet know, and the places where they live may be where we’ve never been, whether far or near. But it is in kinship, in connection with each other, hopefully both hilarious and prophetic, that we will find our way.
A clergy colleague posted this poem this week:
by Mary Oliver
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
—From Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (p. 61)
Go and be kin, be church, share joy.
Grace and peace,