Move Your Feet
In this third talk of the September Be a Superhero to Your Community series, Rev. Joanne tells us about the well known superhero, Batman. Unlike many other comic book heroes, Batman did not come by his powers through being from another plant or exposure to radioactivity. Instead, Batman’s powers were self-made. He was conscious of staying physically fit. He studied hard in school to learn math, science, history, and psychology. He used these “powers” he obtained to outsmart his opponents.
As a young boy, Bruce Wayne, Batman’s real name, experienced the life changing horror and trauma of witnessing his parents being murdered. From that moment, he decided to dedicate his life to fighting crime. The creators of the Batman character made Batman an angry, vengeful and violent, almost vigilante type figure. After a time, the publishers decided it may be unhealthy to have the youth that were reading the comic books being exposed to this type of behavior, and made a conscious choice to change the Batman character of one dedicated to fighting crime, yes, but one who was neither cruel nor vengeful. After that transformation, the character of Batman never killed another criminal. (Think comic satire of the 1960s TV show.)
The writers of the Batman series also gave him a young helper, Robin. As a boy, Robin also witness the death of his parents by sabotage. Trapeze artists in the circus, their apparatus failed and they perished. Knowing that feeling of loss personally, Batman was able to feel compassion for Robin, and offer him help as a mentor.
There is an archetype of a “superhero,” Rev. Joanne tells us, that says there is something or someone outside of ourselves that we need to save us – sometimes from ourselves. Traditional Christianity has the idea of Jesus as savior, the ultimate superhero God that saves all of humanity from themselves.
They also project this idea in The Doctrine of Discovery, which was declared by a Papal Bull in 1493 by Alexander VI. This gave Christians the “right” to claim any land in the name of the Church, not already possessed by other Christians, so as to be able to save the non-Christians from themselves. Let us hope that we have grown as a species beyond such an idea.
Rev. Joanne reminds us that like Batman, we too can become “superheroes” without the aid of supernatural phenomena. Bringing the self-made hero metaphor of Batman to real life, she tells us again about a true superhero, Father Greg Boyle, S.J., founder and director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA. (Father Boyle’s story is so instructive and inspiring, that his life and work have been mentioned in previous Sunday lessons by Rev. Joanne.)
Homeboy Industries provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.1 Father Greg has dedicated his life to helping those most marginalized in our society. Not in a spirit of condescending paternalism, but in true compassion for alleviating suffering of others. While acknowledging that not everyone in this world begins with the same cards dealt to them, and therefore often facing extraordinary challenges, nowhere in Father Greg’s work and teaching is there any hint of a victim mentality. In an interview from 2017, he describes the process through which he came to realize how he can best help others. An extended excerpt:
I don’t believe in mistakes. Everything belongs, and, as the homies say, “It’s all good.” I do believe in lessons learned. I have learned that you work with gang members and not with gangs, otherwise you enforce the cohesion of gangs and supply them oxygen. I know now that gang warfare is not the Middle East or Northern Ireland. There is violence in gang violence but there is no conflict. It is not “about something.” It is the language of the despondent and traumatized.
In my 30 years of ministry to gang members in Los Angeles, the most significant reversal of course for me happened somewhere during my sixth year. I had mistakenly tried to “save” young men and women trapped in gang life. But then, in an instant, I learned that saving lives is for the Coast Guard. Me wanting a gang member to have a different life would never be the same as that gang member wanting to have one. I discovered that you do not go to the margins to rescue anyone. But if we go there, everyone finds rescue.2
Father Greg says that often people who are looking to help others can be too results oriented – they want to be able to see tangible evidence that they are doing some good. But, he says, if we become too results oriented it will limit us to taking on work to help only those with whom they are sure they will get good results. This leaves far too many people underserved. Homeboy Industries is not that. They reach out to those furthest on the margins. For those who have decided they want to help themselves Homeboy Industries offers an eighteen month program of education, anger management, tattoo removal, and a program of empowerment to give people the ability to help themselves. To heal. To truly heal. He says that once a gang member has been healed they will never be incarcerated again.
Homeboy industries is a community of kinship where the gospel is lived. Where Jesus’ example is followed – a life of genuine open heartedness and unconditional loving kindness. Father Greg tells us that when we are willing to meet people at the margins of contact everyone is changed, not just those who supposedly need “help.” Rev. Joanne asks us to recognize the difference between this philosophy and that of a "benevolent savior."
There is an insidious “mind-bug” in some Truth students, be they Unity or other New Thought philosophies. Rev. Joanne reminds us that the idea that we should not “give attention to” that which we do not wish to see grow in our lives, or in the world, is missing the point. When it comes to helping others or helping oneself, we cannot simply ignore that which is obviously true. If we would like to lose weight or get a better job, meditation and positive affirmations alone will have no effect. So too, if there are things in the greater community in need of change, we must do more than just “hold a good thought.” There is an old proverb (source unknown), ‘Pray to God, but move your feet.’ This is precisely what Father Greg and Homeboy Industries are doing – moving their feet.
The Oxford Online Dictionary: compassion, noun; /kəmˈpaʃən/ The feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it; pity that inclines one to spare or to succour.3 It is important to note the part of this definition that says, . . . and by the desire to relieve it. When we fully activate our Power of Compassion we move from feeling to doing. Compassion is also a verb.
Now Go and Be the Light.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13
This week, practice being compassion in action. Look for opportunities to choose to be kind. With humility, be patient in your interactions with others. If there is someone to forgive, do so. Rather than reacting in fear or anger, take a breath, center in Loving Wisdom, and respond gently.
1Mission Statement, Homeboy Industries Inc. www.homeboyindustries.org
2American Jesuit Review, March 28, 2017.
3Oxford English Dictionary; www.oed.com